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Some members shutter offices following coronavirus diagnosis on the Hill

Staff for some self-quarantining members were already teleworking

A tourist takes a photo of the U.S. Capitol building on Thursday, March 12, 2020. Tours of the Capitol are expected to be suspended due to the coronavirus.
A tourist takes a photo of the U.S. Capitol building on Thursday, March 12, 2020. Tours of the Capitol are expected to be suspended due to the coronavirus. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Lawmakers have begun to close their Capitol Hill offices “out of an abundance of caution” following announcements that a Senate staffer has tested positive for COVID-19 and the suspension of all tours as the coronavirus pandemic reaches Congress.

On Thursday, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., announced that he was closing his Senate office, citing an aide in another Senate office testing positive for the virus and that “other congressional employees are likely to test positive in the days ahead.”

“The most sensible course of action for the public and the congressional workforce under the circumstances is for my staff to telecommute,” Cotton said in a statement. “A weeklong congressional recess begins tomorrow, so the disruption to our in-office operations will be minimal. My D.C. office will remain closed through that recess.”

Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy’s staff will begin telework starting Friday, he told reporters. The gastroenterologist has been proactive about prevention and educating colleagues, staff and even reporters about proper hygiene and social distancing measures.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who is on self quarantine after interacting with an individual who later tested positive for the virus, announced that he would temporarily shutter his D.C. office in response to reports of the positive test of a Sen. Maria Cantwell staffer.

[Senate staffer tests positive for COVID-19, first coronavirus case on Hill]

The Washington Democrat’s office said Wednesday night the staffer who tested positive has “no known contact with the senator or other members of Congress.”

Cantwell’s office is closed “for deep cleaning,” on the advice of the attending physician, and staff will telework.

Sen. Rick Scott announced Thursday afternoon that he would enter self-quarantine after meeting with a staffer of Brazilian president Jair Bolsenaro who has tested positive for COVID-19.

“My offices in D.C. and throughout the state will still be fully operational to help Floridians,” Scott said in a statement.

Some senators hadn’t yet made up their minds when the work-day started Thursday.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said his office has “a few more decisions to make,” and that he expects to make an announcement soon about whether he will close his D.C. office.

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III told reporters that his staff is working remotely on Friday as a stress test of their telecommuting capabilities. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he and his staff are evaluating the situation multiple times a day.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked on Thursday about remote work for Congress and she seemed to indicate that may soon become more universal.

“That is something that we’re actually encouraging people to be prepared for. … I hope of much of what we’re doing is redundant and that we don’t have to engage in some of this, but if we do, we want to be prepared, we want to prevent the spread, so if people have to stay home, they have to stay home. But we also don’t want to panic. So that’s why we’ve based any decisions about the Capitol, this or that, on what is recommended by the Capitol physician and the Sergeant at Arms and the chief of police,” she said.

Quarantined lawmakers closed offices earlier

While senators react to the illness making its way to their side of the Capitol, a number of House offices were already closed this week by lawmakers who entered quarantine following interactions with infected people.

Rep. Don Beyer announced earlier in the week that his office would close for public business following notification that he had dined with a friend who later tested positive for COVID-19. The Virginia Democrat is in self quarantine.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, who tested negative after interacting with the same individual as Cruz, closed his office for the week while he quarantined.

California Democratic Rep,. Julia Brownley, who interacted with a COVID-19 positive person in her D.C. office, has also closed her D.C. office while she is in self-quarantine. Her staff are working remotely and her district offices remain open.

Mary Ellen McIntire, Lauren Clason, Lindsey McPherson and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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