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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 MurphyPassage of FASTER Act is critical for food allergy community Sunday shows: Biden's border woes, gun control dominate Murphy, Toomey say background check bill could pass Senate MORE (D-Conn.), sent a letter on Monday to Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden to meet Monday with bipartisan lawmakers about infrastructure 100 business executives discuss how to combat new voting rules: report Arkansas governor says 'divisive' Trump attacks on GOP officials are 'unhelpful' MORE (R-Ky.) and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiWhite House races clock to beat GOP attacks Sunday shows - Infrastructure dominates Liz Cheney says allegations against Gaetz are 'sickening,' refuses to say if he should resign 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 KlobucharLobbying world New small business coalition to urge action on antitrust policy Bottom line MORE (Minn.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownA bold fix for US international taxation of corporations Democrats offer competing tax ideas on Biden infrastructure Former Ohio health director won't run for Senate MORE (Ohio), Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyGreen tech isn't all it's cracked up to be 2024 GOP White House hopefuls lead opposition to Biden Cabinet 33 Democrats urge Biden to shut down Dakota Access Pipeline MORE (Ore.), Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzGeorgia law makes it a crime to give food, water to people waiting to vote Senate Democrats reintroduce bill to create financial transaction tax GOP lawmaker introduces bill targeting tech liability protections MORE (Hawaii), Tina SmithTina Flint SmithDemocratic senators call on CDC to boost accessibility of vaccine scheduling for seniors Democrats near pressure point on nixing filibuster  Sen. Tina Smith calls for eliminating filibuster MORE (Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinMary Trump joining group that supports LGBTQ+ female candidates Johnson says leaving office after 2022 'probably my preference now' Democrats push Biden to include recurring payments in recovery package MORE (Wis.), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Dakota Access pipeline to remain in operation despite calls for shutdown | Biden hopes to boost climate spending by B | White House budget proposes .4B for environmental justice Biden .5T budget proposes major hike in social programs Biden hopes to boost climate spending by billion MORE (Vt.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden may find zero GOP support for jobs plan Biden says Cabinet 'looks like America' at first meeting Both parties look to recruit Asian American candidates as violence against group increases MORE (Hawaii), Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenLawmakers struggle with Capitol security after latest attack Democrats torn on Biden's bipartisan pledge Democrats wrestle over tax hikes for infrastructure MORE (Md.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenThe first Southern state legalizes marijuana — what it means nationally A bold fix for US international taxation of corporations Democrats offer competing tax ideas on Biden infrastructure MORE (Ore.), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyDemocrats divided on gun control strategy Senate Democrats call on DHS for details on response to Portland protests Dems' momentum hits quagmire over infrastructure plans MORE (Pa.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOn The Money: Biden .5T budget proposes major hike in social programs | GOP bashes border, policing provisions Overnight Defense: Biden proposes 3B defense budget | Criticism comes in from left and right | Pentagon moves toward new screening for extremists POW/MIA flag moved back atop White House 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.