Insufficient COVID-19 Testing For Congress Could Disrupt Government Activity
The U.S. Senate is expected to reconvene and return to business on Monday, but COVID-19 could disrupt that plan. The return to work has already been extended for two weeks, from the previously scheduled date of April 20. Now, Capitol physician Dr. Brian Monahan says that the testing capacity required to make the meetings safe isn’t available.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced in mid-April that the Senate’s hiatus would be extended through May 4th, on the advice of health experts, NPR reported at the time. According to The Hill, the House of Representatives has already announced an intention to extend the hiatus for that body, until such time as physicians say that it’s safe and appropriate to return.
While the Senate hasn’t yet followed with a similar announcement, Politico reported Thursday that Capitol physician Dr. Brian Monahan has warned there are not sufficient supplies to test all 100 senators as they return to work.
While everyone who comes into contact with the President is provided rapid tests, those available to the Senate take two days for results, and Dr. Monahan says that there are enough for anyone who shows symptoms, but not to test everyone.
According to KITV, McConnell and Senator Dianne Feinstein have clashed on this, with Feinstein calling for a further delay and McConnell maintaining that the Senate can get back to work safely.
McConnell released a statement comparing legislators to front-line health care and grocery workers, saying that the governing bodies must reconvene to respond to needs created by the pandemic.
If it is essential for doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, truck drivers, grocery-store workers, and other brave Americans to keep carefully manning their duty stations, then it is essential for Senators to carefully man ours and support them. We are reconvening next week. pic.twitter.com/XNmJGkGjcW
— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) April 27, 2020
Despite calling for a decision not to gather, Feinstein has also released statements urging action on coronavirus response when the Senate does reconvene, saying that the focus upon return should be on the pandemic response.
A significant portion of the elected officials in both House and Senate are over 65, one of the stated risk factors for a more severe outcome of COVID-19. This includes both McConnell (78) and Feinstein (86).
Government buildings are being sanitized and prepared for the return to work, and Senators are being urged to telecommute where possible to limit contact. However, senators have expressed concern that, especially without testing, the virus could spread rapidly through Congress to devastating effect.