WASHINGTON (AP) – Some senators now say they would like legislators to be tested for coronavirus, just days after Congressional leaders turned down an offer of 1,000 tests from Trump's White House.
Without testing, "We are disease vectors," Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said on Wednesday, adding that Washington is a hot spot for infection.
King and others' observations highlight the pressures faced by lawmakers, as the United States remains seriously short of the number of testing experts it considers necessary. Many members of Congress face higher risks because they are older and travel frequently, but they also hate to be seen as having special access to a scarce resource.
"It is fully responsible for doing tests, not just to protect us, but to protect everyone else involved in this trip," said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. He said lawmakers and congressional staff should be tested, but without "taking resources from other people".
On Tuesday, Senator Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate health committee, said that, with more tests available, he expects "attitudes to change quickly" about the decision to reject the White House's testing offer. Alexander, Tennessee, said parliamentarians traveling back and forth to Washington "create a highly efficient virus-spreading machine."
A senator and seven members of the House reported positive tests for the disease. At least 19 congressional officials, including eight Capitol police officers, also tested positive, according to a letter last week by Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-California.
Despite President Donald Trump's assurances that the U.S. has had all the necessary tests, public health experts say the country lags far behind the tests needed to detect and control new outbreaks. The virus continues to spread across the country, with more than 1.2 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease that the virus causes and more than 72,000 deaths.
While faster and faster tests are becoming available, many medical offices and laboratories have been overwhelmed by demand, and long delays are common. A gradual reopening of businesses in some states is likely to increase infections and aggravate the problem.
Last Friday night – two days before the Senate returned to Washington for the first time in weeks – Health Secretary Alex Azar tweeted that the White House was sending 1,000 tests to the Capitol. Earlier on Saturday, Trump tweeted that there was "tremendous" testing capacity available and said the Senate would send a test from Abbott Laboratories, which he said produces results in five minutes.
But the next day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of New York declined the offer in a rare joint statement.
"Congress wants to continue to direct resources to the frontline facilities, where they can do their best and faster," they said.
Trump replied that lawmakers rejected the tests due to "politics" and added a blow to Pelosi, tweeting, "Crazy Nancy is going to use him as an excuse for not showing up at work!" The House, which is much larger than the Senate, will not return to Washington until at least next week.
McConnell and Pelosi have not changed their minds about refusing White House tests, advisers said.
Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and his aides are routinely tested for the virus, as are visitors who come in contact with them.
Brian Monahan, Congressional medical officer, told lawmakers at briefings that he has "sufficient" tests for people who have symptoms of COVID-19, said a Democratic aide to the House.
Estimates vary, but doctors believe that a significant number of people with the disease have no symptoms, but are able to infect others.
Monahan did not say how many tests there are. These tests involve taking a sample with a cotton swab and sending it to a laboratory, with the results available in two or three days, said the aide, who revealed the details only on condition of anonymity.
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