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Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing

 Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing
© Greg Nash

Senate Democrats are calling on congressional leadership to implement a comprehensive plan for coronavirus testing at the Capitol after a recent outbreak that included several lawmakers. 

Two dozen senators, spearheaded by Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Defense: Lawmakers release compromise defense bill in defiance of Trump veto threat | Senate voting next week on blocking UAE arms sale | Report faults lack of training, 'chronic fatigue' in military plane crashes Senate to vote next week on blocking Trump's UAE arms sale Overnight Defense: Defense bill among Congress's year-end scramble | Iranian scientist's assassination adds hurdles to Biden's plan on nuclear deal | Navy scrapping USS Bonhomme Richard after fire MORE (D-Conn.), sent a letter on Monday to Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Unemployment gains lower than expected | Jobs report lights fire under coronavirus relief talks GOP senators back Christian school's push for COVID-19 carve-out Bipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package MORE (R-Ky.) and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Unemployment gains lower than expected | Jobs report lights fire under coronavirus relief talks Hillicon Valley: Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security | Biden says China must play by 'international norms' | House Democrats use Markup app for leadership contest voting Bipartisan governors call on Congress to pass coronavirus relief package MORE (D-Calif.) saying that the environment within the Capitol "has created vulnerabilities" for those in the building every day.

"With 123 positive cases amongst Legislative Branch employees or contractors, it is critical that everyone has access to and the assurance of strong testing protocols to prevent the unidentified spread that has occurred in several instances over the past few months. Failing to provide this testing puts everybody within the Capitol complex at risk,” the senators wrote. 

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The senators said that testing "is now being offered to some Senate staff for the first time," but warned that "these actions do not go far enough."

"They do not provide access to testing for all workers throughout the Capitol buildings, despite their risk of exposure. We ask you, in coordination with the Office of the Attending Physician, to expand access to free testing for all workers around the Capitol," they added. 

Those who would be able to get tested under the more widespread plan envisioned by Democrats would include Capitol Police, office staff, restaurant workers, cleaning staff and members, among others. 

In addition to Murphy, Democratic Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharSenate committee advances bill for national Latino museum Senate committee approves nominations of three FEC commissioners Scammers step up efforts to target older Americans during pandemic MORE (Minn.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownACLU sues DHS for records on purchased cell phone data to track immigrants DHS watchdog to probe agency's tracking of Americans' phone data without a warrant Rare Mnuchin-Powell spat takes center stage at COVID-19 hearing MORE (Ohio), Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyDemocrats introduce legislation to strike slavery exception in 13th Amendment Overnight Defense: Defense bill among Congress's year-end scramble | Iranian scientist's assassination adds hurdles to Biden's plan on nuclear deal | Navy scrapping USS Bonhomme Richard after fire Supreme Court declines to hear case challenging unlimited super PAC fundraising MORE (Ore.), Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzACLU sues DHS for records on purchased cell phone data to track immigrants DHS watchdog to probe agency's tracking of Americans' phone data without a warrant Tech CEOs clash with lawmakers in contentious hearing MORE (Hawaii), Tina SmithTina Flint SmithSenate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls Smith wins reelection in Minnesota Democrats expand Senate map, putting GOP on defense MORE (Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinSenate Democrats reelect Schumer as leader by acclamation  Next Congress expected to have record diversity Infrastructure, energy investments urgently needed to create U.S. jobs MORE (Wis.), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyGovernment used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 Top GOP senator warns government funding deal unlikely this week Incoming Congress looks more like America MORE (Vt.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoHillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff YouTube temporarily suspends OANN account after spreading coronavirus misinformation MORE (Hawaii), Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenOn The Money: COVID-19 relief picks up steam as McConnell, Pelosi hold talks | Slowing job growth raises fears of double-dip recession | Biden officially announces Brian Deese as top economic adviser GOP blocks effort to make payroll tax deferral optional for federal workers Democratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry MORE (Md.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Government used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 | Defense bill leaves out Section 230 repeal, includes White House cyber czar position | Officials warn hackers are targeting vaccine supply chain Government used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 Despite veto threat, Congress presses ahead on defense bill MORE (Ore.), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyScranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Grassley tests positive for coronavirus Casey says he isn't thinking about Pennsylvania gubernatorial bid in 2022 MORE (Pa.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenCan Biden find a third way between Trumpism and Obama-era globalism? Left seeks to influence Biden picks while signaling unity Schwarzenegger says he would 'absolutely' help Biden administration MORE (Mass.) signed the letter.

Some testing has been available in the Capitol to members and those around a lawmaker who tests positive for the coronavirus. 

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But with lawmakers in close quarters with each other, staff and the press, and still flying to and from their home states regularly, there have been growing bipartisan calls for a more formal, widespread testing program in the Capitol. 

Pelosi and McConnell both previously declined an offer of rapid testing from the White House earlier this year, saying they wanted to keep resources directed toward the front lines. 

McConnell, facing questions during recent stops in Kentucky, gave no indication that he was going to ramp up testing in response to three GOP senators recently testing positive and others having to self-isolate out of an abundance of caution.

"We're following the advice of the CDC in how we operate the Senate and so far we've been able to do it quite successfully," McConnell said earlier this month, referring to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In addition to more robust testing, Democrats are calling on the Senate to require a mask on its side of the Capitol and in office buildings.

Most senators wear a mask around the Capitol, though it isn't required. Mask-wearing among staff in the office buildings is more hit-and-miss.