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Second Capitol Police officer tests positive for coronavirus

Second Capitol Police officer tests positive for coronavirus
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A female United States Capitol Police officer has tested positive for coronavirus, sources told The Hill on Monday, upping pressure on the department to conduct testing for more of its front-line officers and other personnel.

This marks the second officer from the United States Capitol Police (USCP) to be infected by COVID-19. A day earlier, a USCP official confirmed to The Hill that an officer had tested positive and had been in self-quarantine since March 18.

The official did not immediately respond Monday to questions about the second officer. But a Capitol Hill source said the female officer had been assigned to the Senate; another source said the first officer, a man, had been assigned to the House chamber.

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“The USCP has contacted employees in order to identify individuals who may have been in close contact with the affected employee. The Department has taken, and will continue to take, all the necessary steps to ensure that any affected work areas or facilities were properly cleaned,” USCP spokeswoman Eva Malecki said in an email Sunday to The Hill in response to questions about the first officer.

“The USCP is working closely with the Office of Attending Physician, Congressional leadership, and the Architect of the Capitol, and our focus is on the health and well-being of our employees.”

The developments come as a growing number of lawmakers and aides have tested positive for COVID-19.

At least four House lawmakers — Reps. Mario Diaz-BalartMario Rafael Diaz-BalartEPA sued over plans to give Florida authority over managing wetlands, waterways Bottom line READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results MORE (R-Fla.), Ben McAdams (D-Utah), Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamWe lost in November — we're proud we didn't take corporate PAC money Chamber of Commerce slams GOP effort to challenge Biden's win Coalition of 7 conservative House Republicans says they won't challenge election results MORE (D-S.C.) and Mike KellyGeorge (Mike) Joseph KellyREAD: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results Here are the Republicans planning to challenge the Electoral College results On The Money: Congress passes bill to avert shutdown as coronavirus talks drag into weekend | Federal Reserve fight imperils relief talks MORE (R-Pa.) — said they have tested positive and were self-quarantining. Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official McConnell faces conservative backlash over Trump criticism McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time MORE (R-Ky.) came under fire from colleagues and other critics after working out in the Senate gym and attending lunches with colleagues after being exposed to individuals with coronavirus; Paul later tested positive.

But traffic in the normally bustling Capitol will be much lighter as the nation grapples with the coronavirus. After passing a historic $2 trillion coronavirus health and economic rescue package last week, the House and Senate are not expected to come back into session for several weeks.

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On Monday, House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger said in a joint statement they were extending the temporary closure of the Capitol Visitors Center to May 1, halting all public tours. Also, access to House and Senate office buildings will be limited to lawmakers, staffers, press and those with official business during that period.

“We are taking this temporary action out of concern for the health and safety of congressional employees as well as the public,” they said in Monday's statement.

Still, the union representing officers has voiced concerns about their safety as the number of cases has mounted on Capitol Hill. On March 20, Gus Papathanasiou, the Capitol Police union leader, emailed Police Chief Steven A. Sund, asking why officers responsible for protecting the Capitol complex and top congressional leaders were not being tested for the novel coronavirus, Roll Call reported last week.

Sund replied at the time: “No USCP officers have been identified to be at high risk and no testing required.”

“That’s unacceptable for the Department to take that position and not test every officer if they’re required to be at work protecting the congressional community in uniform,” Papathanasiou said in a statement.

Other sources familiar with the situation said there was enough concern among department leaders that teams of healthy officers have been told to stay at home in case of an outbreak among officers still working in the Capitol. The infected officers would then be replaced by the teams of healthy officers.

In her Sunday statement to The Hill, Malecki said Capitol Police have implemented numerous measures to respond to the pandemic. The department has also communicated extensively with its officers and other employees to provide them up-to-date information, she said. 

“The Department could not be more proud of the tremendous teamwork and dedication to our mission that our employees have exhibited as the nation, the Congress, and the Department continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Malecki said.

Updated at 12:28 p.m.