Reporters asked to keep six-foot distance from senators

Greg Nash

Reporters on Capitol Hill are being asked to stay at least six feet away from senators this week to reduce the possibility of spreading the coronavirus while the Senate remains in session to work on stimulus legislation.

The Senate sergeant at arms has asked the media galleries to urge members to maintain six feet of distance from senators and from fellow journalists during their daily activities.

At least three senators have self-quarantined themselves in recent days because of possible contact with people suspected of being infected by coronavirus.

“Leadership has expressed concerns about the nature of ‘walk-and-talks’ and large scrums with lawmakers, because of the close quarters involved that can allow easier spread of serious illnesses,” Sarah Wire, chair of the Daily Press Gallery Standing Committee of Correspondents, and Leo Shane, chair of the Periodical Press Gallery Executive Committee, wrote in a letter to colleagues.

“Any working press in the Capitol or congressional office buildings need to be mindful of how close they are to lawmakers and staff (and each other) while conducting interviews,” they wrote. “In some cases, lawmakers may be more reluctant to conduct lengthy sessions with large press scrums due to health concerns.”

Officials with the Senate sergeant at arms office, which is in charge of Capitol security, has asked the media galleries to inform members to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Jason Donner, the chairman of the Executive Committee of the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association, wrote in a note to colleagues that Senate leadership staff and the sergeant at arms office are “concerned about media gaggles and both reporters’ and senators’ safety as we all routinely stand in close proximity to each other.”

Donner urged journalists to “follow CDC guidelines for social distancing, limit attendance at large gatherings, practice good hygiene, and clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.”

Several senators have expressed concern about their personal health and the well-being of their colleagues.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) on Sunday urged the Senate to approve the House-passed coronavirus relief package and an extension of expiring surveillance authority powers by unanimous consent so that lawmakers would not be required to return to the Capitol Monday.

“Demanding that those senators not currently in self quarantine take unnecessary flights exposing themselves and others; requiring our staffs to return to the Capitol and then have all of us return to our families makes no sense in light of the president’s emergency declaration,” Durbin said in a statement tweeted out Sunday.

The highly contagious coronavirus is especially dangerous for older people, a fact that is worrisome for senators, many of whom are older than 70.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is 78 years old, and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) is 69. 

Tags Chuck Schumer Coronavirus Dick Durbin Mitch McConnell

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