Updated on Jan. 8 at 7:45 p.m. ET
The coronavirus pandemic for months has upended the daily work of Congress, which has seen a series of outbreaks.
Now, some are hopeful that they could stem the flow of cases with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine now available to all members of Congress.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer were among the first wave of members to take part.
Lawmakers “will be provided with a specific number of COVID19 vaccine doses to meet long-standing requirements for continuity of government operations,” the Capitol’s attending physician, Dr. Brian Monahan, wrote in a December 17 note to Congress.
By December, about 50 lawmakers and more than 220 workers tested positive, or were presumed so, for the illness. This past summer, a Florida member’s aide died from COVID-19.
As a result, both chambers of Congress recessed multiple times throughout the year as the Capitol went largely without a widespread testing program.
For its part, the Democrat-controlled House installed emergency proxy voting and remote hearings in May. And in November, Pelosi triggered a broader COVID-19 testing program for Congress following new requirement for travelers to the Washington, D.C., area.
But efforts to test as many as 2,000 a week still falls short for a Capitol complex that includes more than 530 lawmakers and a workforce of 20,000 or more.
In December, at least six Republican House members tested positive for the illness and missed floor votes as a result. And Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond, the incoming director of the Office of Public Engagement for President-elect Joe Biden, was also infected with the illness.
A month earlier, several House members were also positive, including the oldest member, Alaska Republican Don Young. Others included outgoing Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Cheri Bustos of Illinois and Republican Tim Walberg of Michigan.
A previous outbreak in September was tied to a White House Rose Garden ceremony to announce Amy Coney Barrett as President Trump’s Supreme Court justice nominee. Trump, first lady Melania Trump and dozens of others in attendance tested positive, including Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.
It was one of several instances forcing leaders to change the schedule.
The pandemic has sidelined Congress since its March beginnings, as House and Senate leaders delayed bringing back members for several weeks in light of public health guidelines recommending social distancing.
The Senate returned in May, but the much larger House still stayed mostly away under the advice of Dr. Monahan. That same month, the House approved historic rule changes to allow remote voting and hearings.
The initial rash of cases began March 8, when two Republican lawmakers, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, were the first members of Congress to announce self-quarantines. Both attended the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., where another guest fell ill.
The following week, the first two members of Congress said they tested positive for the coronavirus illness. Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida and Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams of Utah both said they developed symptoms after a March 14 vote on a coronavirus relief package.
By this summer, dozens of Capitol workers reported a positive test or were presumed so, and Gary Tibbetts, a longtime staffer for Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida, died from COVID-19 on July 24.
Some lawmakers have taken antibody tests to see if they were previously ill. Among them, Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania both said they tested positive months after experiencing symptoms in the spring.
To stem the flow of new cases, both chambers issued new social distancing guidance. Also, the U.S. Capitol remains closed to public tours and open only to members, staff, press and official business visitors.
In late July, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also issued a new mask mandate after Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, who has often rejected mask protocols, tested positive. Gohmert had attended several hearings a day earlier and returned to the Capitol following a White House screening that caught his infection.
Gohmert’s case triggered quarantines for five House members, including Arizona Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva. Days later, Grijalva tested positive, but fully recovered symptom free. Now, members can be forcibly removed by Capitol Police if they are not wearing masks.
This story was originally published on April 15, 2020.
Congress And COVID-19: Members\’ Cases And Quarantines /p>