The Capitol's attending physician is advising members of Congress to take more stringent precautions against COVID-19, such as staying away from dinners or receptions, as they return to Washington this week during a nationwide surge in cases.
In a memo dated Monday, Brian Monahan urged lawmakers and staff to adhere to social distancing guidelines and avoid congregating on or near the House floor — guidance which many lawmakers in both parties have struggled to follow in recent weeks. Monahan also advised lawmakers against dining with other people outside of their families, underlining and capitalizing his words for emphasis.
"Due to experience in the Congress of increased disease frequency occurring in certain circumstances, I recommend that you DO NOT ATTEND dinners, receptions, or restaurant gatherings outside of your family unit. Select outside seating, or carry-out if available when dining alone or with your family unit," Monahan wrote.
The warning against attending receptions, which are likely to be higher-risk indoor environments where people aren't wearing masks as they eat and drink, comes as the White House is moving forward with annual holiday parties despite the pandemic.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the White House is expected to host more than a dozen indoor holiday parties, including a congressional ball on Dec. 10.
Stephanie GrishamStephanie GrishamFormer aide sees Melania Trump as 'the doomed French queen': book Former Trump aide Stephanie Grisham planning book: report Jill Biden appears on Vogue cover MORE, a spokeswoman for first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpFormer aide sees Melania Trump as 'the doomed French queen': book If another 9/11 happened in a divided 2021, could national unity be achieved again? Former Trump aide Stephanie Grisham planning book: report MORE, said that the White House is reducing guest lists, requiring masks, encouraging physical distancing and making hand sanitizer available.
At least 33 members of the House and Senate have tested positive for COVID-19 since March, while several others have had presumed cases or tested positive for antibodies.
Rep. Austin ScottJames (Austin) Austin ScottThis week: Democrats kick off chaotic fall with Biden's agenda at stake House committee moves to block private funds for National Guard deployments House Republican takes part in hearing while driving car MORE (R-Ga.) on Monday night became the latest lawmaker to test positive for COVID-19, following 11 other cases among members of Congress in the two weeks before Thanksgiving.
Five House members, as well as Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGrassley calls for federal prosecutor to probe botched FBI Nassar investigation Woman allegedly abused by Nassar after he was reported to FBI: 'I should not be here' Democrat rips Justice for not appearing at US gymnastics hearing MORE (R-Iowa), were in Washington and cast in-person floor votes in the days before they tested positive shortly before the holiday.
The House delayed its return to session this week until Wednesday, while Senate Republicans are temporarily suspending in-person caucus lunches.
Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Pelosi plows full speed ahead on jam-packed agenda Jan. 6 committee taps former Bush administration official as top lawyer Ocasio-Cortez, Bush push to add expanded unemployment in .5T spending plan MORE (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOn The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Pelosi plows full speed ahead on jam-packed agenda Hoyer affirms House will vote Sept. 27 on bipartisan infrastructure bill House to act on debt ceiling next week MORE (D-Md.) have repeatedly reminded lawmakers in recent weeks to quickly leave the House chamber once they've cast their votes and avoid congregating with others, but lawmakers in both parties have not always been following that guidance and still routinely gather in groups to catch up and exchange fist bumps.
Pelosi began requiring masks on the House floor and surrounding office buildings in late July after Rep. Louie GohmertLouis (Louie) Buller GohmertSecurity forces under pressure to prevent repeat of Jan. 6 Washington ramps up security ahead of Sept. 18 rally Police brace for Capitol rally defending Jan. 6 mob MORE (R-Texas) tested positive. In the days prior to receiving his results, Gohmert had at times not worn a facial covering.
Many lawmakers have been removing masks as they speak before the cameras on the House floor. In his memo, Monahan advised lawmakers to wear facial coverings "at any time you are in the company of another person, inside or outside."
"Should you elect to briefly remove your face cover for recognition by a Chair or Presiding Officer, please replace your face cover to continue your remarks at the microphone," Monahan added.
Monahan also suggested that people consider using surgical masks instead of cloth facial coverings for "more effective personal protection mask filtration."
The Capitol physician's office began offering COVID-19 tests to lawmakers and staff in November in light of an order from D.C. Mayor Muriel BowserMuriel BowserBiden to GOP governors planning vaccine mandate lawsuits: 'Have at it' Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program Biden nominates DC regulator to federal energy commission MORE (D) requiring people who travel to the nation's capital to get tested before and after arrival. Test results through the program are provided within a day, if not within hours.