Coronavirus infections in the U.S. Capitol have skyrocketed, with the seven-day average positivity rate rising from less than 1 percent to greater than 13 percent, according to a memo sent to lawmakers Monday from Capitol physician Brian Monahan.
According to Monahan, the daily case rates will increase even more substantially in the coming weeks. Dozens of infections are discovered daily, and the cases represent both a rising rate of "breakthrough infections" among mostly vaccinated individuals as well as cases in several unvaccinated individuals.
The increase in cases at the Capitol corresponds to a historic spike in the greater Washington, D.C., region as the highly contagious omicron variant spreads. According to Monahan, omicron represents approximately 61 percent of positive tests, and the delta virus variant represents 38 percent.
"The most common risk of acquiring infection is the individual's activities outside the workplace, such as attendance at receptions, entertainment venues, celebrations, family gatherings, travel, and crowded indoor situations," Monahan wrote.
While the majority of the cases are found in vaccinated individuals, Monahan noted those infections have not led to hospitalizations, serious complications or deaths, "attesting to the value of coronavirus vaccinations."
The numbers also reflect a high percentage of people who are vaccinated — with higher numbers of vaccinated people, there will be higher numbers of breakthrough infections. Most cases are relatively mild, but older individuals and those with underlying medical conditions may experience severe disease even if vaccinated. The best protection against the omicron variant is to get a booster shot.
Sixty-five percent of cases at the Capitol are symptomatic, while 35 percent are asymptomatic.
Amid the increase in COVID cases, Senate Democrats are shifting their regular in-person lunches to virtual meetings for at least this week, per a Senate Democratic source.
The Capitol complex is not changing the rules regarding masks indoors; they are required in the House but not in the Senate. However, Monahan said masks need to be upgraded.
"Blue surgical masks, cloth face masks and gaiter masks must be replaced by the more protective KN95 or N95 masks," Monahan wrote.
He recommended offices adopt telework as much as possible to reduce in-person meetings and in-office activities. Additionally, Capitol food vendors and dining facilities will emphasize carry-out, delivery and grab-and-go-type food options.
"Measures to address coronavirus spread remain essential. While some view the SARS CoV2 coronavirus disease as 'endemic,' the 'new normal,' and 'inevitable,' these views are premature. The entire community must continue to take every measure to suppress the rapid spread of this disease," the memo stated.
This story was updated at 3:11 p.m.