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Members, staff in the dark about prevalence of Capitol Hill coronavirus cases

17 construction workers assigned to Cannon House Office Building renovation project have tested positive

Staffers and members who work in the Cannon House Office Building were not informed that 11 construction workers working on its renovation tested positive for the novel coronavirus last week, a troubling revelation because lawmakers and their staff returned to D.C. for a vote on a coronavirus aid package that week, according to three senior aides who work in the building.

One senior Democratic staffer found out from a DCist article that was published a day after her boss, several other lawmakers and staff were in Cannon on April 23, which was the day the House voted on a $483 billion COVID-19 economic assistance package.

“It was of concern to me and my congressman because we had a vote on Thursday and we were in our building — our office is in Cannon,” the staffer said. “There were also reporters doing interviews with members in the Cannon rotunda.”

There are now 17 construction workers involved in the Cannon project who have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a senior Republican House Administration Committee staffer. They are contractors working for the Architect of the Capitol’s Cannon renovation project.

[House creates coronavirus oversight panel while Capitol implements new precautions]

Representatives for the Architect of the Capitol did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The construction workers are isolated from the other occupants of the building, according to the House Administration Committee.

“Project personnel are isolated from contact with the occupants of Cannon,” a senior Democratic aide said. “They enter through a dedicated entry and the project is sealed off from the remainder of the building.”

Cannon, built in 1908, is the oldest congressional office building and has been plagued by grave environmental, health, safety and operational issues.

A massive renovation project currently underway in Cannon began in January 2015 and is expected to be completed in 2024. Last June, the Architect of the Capitol said it expected the project, which was initially estimated to cost $753 million, to jump well over $800 million. Since construction began, the process has been delayed by the discovery of hazardous materials and a changing list of audibles requested by the Architect of the Capitol.

After learning of the positive cases last week, the staffer emailed the House Administration Committee and House leadership but received no response.

“I think members and staff shouldn’t have had to find out about this through the news,” the staffer said.

Another senior Democratic aide said he found out on Monday through Twitter.

“So we haven’t gotten any email from the AOC or the acting superintendent of the House office buildings,” he said. “The first time I saw that news was Twitter, which is weird because they’ve been updating us on other things with building procedures regarding COVID-19.”

Coronavirus cases have been prevalent at other agencies on the Hill, such as the Capitol Police.

As of April 27, the Capitol Police had 12 officers who tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Eva Malecki, a spokesperson for the department. She said that eight of them have “fully recovered.”

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