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Capitol physician advises lawmakers against attending dinners, receptions during COVID-19 spike
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 Grisham, a spokeswoman for first lady Melania Trump, 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 Scott (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 Grassley (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 Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (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 Gohmert (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 Bowser (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.