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 MurphyThis week: Democrats hit make-or-break moment for Biden Democrats urge Biden to go all in with agenda in limbo Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B MORE (D-Conn.), sent a letter on Monday to Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFord to bolster electric vehicle production in multi-billion dollar push On The Money — GOP blocks spending bill to kick off chaotic week in congress Overnight Health Care — Presented by Alrtia — Booster shots get bipartisan rollout MORE (R-Ky.) and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiManchin cast doubt on deal this week for .5T spending bill Obama says US 'desperately needs' Biden legislation ahead of key votes Congress shows signs of movement on stalled Biden agenda 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 KlobucharHillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Officials want action on cyberattacks Senate panel advances antitrust bill that eyes Google, Facebook This week: Democrats face mounting headaches MORE (Minn.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBiden sidesteps GOP on judicial vacancies, for now Senate poised to battle over Biden's pick of big bank critic Biden taps big bank skeptic to for top regulatory post MORE (Ohio), Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — Senate Finance chair backs budget action on fossil fuel subsidies Top Democrat says he'll push to address fossil fuel tax breaks in spending bill Democrats revive filibuster fight over voting rights bill MORE (Ore.), Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzManchin raises red flag on carbon tax Panic begins to creep into Democratic talks on Biden agenda Hotel workers need a lifeline; It's time to pass The Save Hotel Jobs Act MORE (Hawaii), Tina SmithTina Flint SmithSenate Democrats seeking information from SPACs, questioning 'misaligned incentives' Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Democratic leaders vow climate action amid divide Manchin puts foot down on key climate provision in spending bill MORE (Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinBiden sidesteps GOP on judicial vacancies, for now Democrats confront 'Rubik's cube on steroids' Warren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack MORE (Wis.), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyPhotos of the Week: Renewable energy, gymnast testimonies and a Met Gala dress Senators denounce protest staged outside home of Justice Kavanaugh Al Franken on another Senate run: 'I'm keeping my options open' MORE (Vt.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocrats urge Biden to go all in with agenda in limbo 11 senators urge House to pass .5T package before infrastructure bill Dems punch back over GOP holdup of Biden SBA nominee MORE (Hawaii), Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenDemocrats urge Biden to go all in with agenda in limbo Senate Democrats seeking information from SPACs, questioning 'misaligned incentives' Bottom line MORE (Md.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOn The Money — House pushes toward infrastructure vote Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — EU calls out Russian hacking efforts aimed at member states Why Democrats opposing Biden's tax plan have it wrong MORE (Ore.), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyBiden sidesteps GOP on judicial vacancies, for now Democrats urge Biden to go all in with agenda in limbo House passes bill to ensure abortion access in response to Texas law MORE (Pa.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenIn defense of share buybacks Democrats urge Biden to go all in with agenda in limbo In Washington, the road almost never taken 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.