A month after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended face coverings to combat the spread of coronavirus, Capitol Police authorities have directed that their officers wear masks when they are within six feet of anyone, a senior Republican aide for the House Administration Committee told CQ Roll Call.
This mandate is designed to help protect officers, lawmakers and visitors to Capitol Hill at all checkpoints, including magnetometers.
Total COVID-19 cases are growing within the ranks of the Architect of the Capitol and the Capitol Police, but the two agencies have taken divergent stances when it comes to requiring masks.
The Architect of the Capitol made face coverings a requirement for employees in April, the week after CDC issued its guidance, which suggested individuals wear them in public settings. Six employees at the Architect of the Capitol have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the aide.
There are 14 Capitol Police officers who have tested positive for the virus, nine of whom have recovered, said Eva Malecki, a spokesperson for the department. Malecki did not immediately respond to questions about the new mask requirement.
In March, Capitol Police Chief Steven A. Sund told the union leader for the department, Gus Papathanasiou, that testing for officers would not be required.
“No USCP officers have been identified to be at high risk and no testing required,” Sund said in an email.
Face coverings should have been required much earlier, Papathanasiou said via text message.
“I’m glad to see the Department has finally gone to a cloth type mask, which was a recommendation I had given the Chief nearly one month ago,” he said. “In fact, we pushed for masks from the beginning, and in a formal meeting with the Chiefs and Union Leadership the Chief had the Attending Physician give us a briefing on masks, but the Department wasn’t proactive enough from the start to ensure the well being of its Officers. All of the measures the Department has taken should have started in mid March.”
The Cannon House Office Building now has 21 total contractors assigned to the building’s renovation project who have tested positive for the coronavirus, up from 17 last week. Thirteen have recovered and are back to work, the aide said.
After learning of the construction worker cases in Cannon, Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, wrote to the Architect of the Capitol and attending physician requesting members be banned from sleeping in their offices amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lawmakers and staff are not required to wear masks. Monday, Sen. Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist, showed up to work without one. The Kentucky Republican, who has already tested positive for the coronavirus, said he didn’t need a face covering because he has “immunity” and can neither get nor transmit the disease to others — a claim that is not backed up by medical research. That same day, Sen. Roy Blunt went mask off. The Missouri Republican ended up wearing one Tuesday.
In his press conference Thursday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called for the House to come back, noting that the Senate has returned and that businesses are open.
“Starbucks is open, but the House is not,” the California Republican said with a coffee cup propped on his podium.
On April 28, after declaring the House would return the first full week of May, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer reversed course, citing the advice of Brian Monahan, the attending physician for Congress and the Supreme Court.