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Amid fears over COVID-19 cases in Congress and the White House, experts call for vaccination

WASHINGTON – A wave of COVID-19 infections has spread through Congress, the White House and a group of Texas state lawmakers, sparking renewed concern among officials about how best to protect themselves against the virus, because the delta variant causes a national spike in cases.

Health officials have said the best protection remains vaccination, noting that injections reduce the risk of serious illness, hospitalization and death.

“If you’re a fully vaccinated person and you meet someone who has COVID, you really don’t have much to fear from the virus. Vaccines are very robust, ”Dr. Amesh Adalja, principal investigator at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told USA TODAY. “What we are seeing now in the United States, as the CDC director said, is an unvaccinated pandemic. This is where the risk lies.

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Vice President Kamala Harris meets with Democratic members of the Texas Legislature, some of whom have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Representative Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., Announced on Monday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus despite having been vaccinated months earlier. He said he was in quarantine with mild flu-like symptoms.

“I can’t wait to get back to work as soon as possible,” Buchanan said. “In the meantime, this should remind us that although vaccines offer a very high degree of protection, we must remain vigilant in the fight against COVID-19. “

A White House staff member and press secretary to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Also tested positive, the White House and the president’s office confirmed on Tuesday. Pelosi’s office said the aide tested positive after meeting with a group of Texas Democrats who came to Washington last week.

Related: Life expectancy in the United States fell by 1.5 years during the pandemic – the biggest drop since World War II

Texas lawmakers had fled their home state amid a battle for voting rights. Six of them tested positive for the coronavirus.

Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill said the speaker’s press team was mostly working remotely and the infected staff member had not come into contact with the speaker.

“Our office will continue to closely follow the guidelines of the attending physician’s office,” said Hammill, referring to the Capitol’s intern physician.

A White House staff member tested positive after attending an event last week with Pelosi’s staff member, spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed on Tuesday.

“This person was not in the office when tested yesterday, and has remained out of the office,” Psaki said.

A White House official said medical staff conducted contact tracing interviews and determined that there was “no close contact” between directors and White House staff with the infected person, who has mild symptoms.

On Capitol Hill, the coronavirus testing site was busy Tuesday after a lull last month. At least 15 people lined up in the afternoon.

Brian Monahan, the congressional attending physician, issued a memo on Tuesday warning of the “serious threat” of the delta variant to unvaccinated people. He did not recommend a return to the mask requirement, as several counties have.

“I urge unvaccinated people to get vaccinated at all times,” he said.

“The Centers for Disease Control generally does not require vaccinated people to wear a mask indoors at this time,” Monahan said. “Despite the vaccine’s excellent protective value in preventing hospitalizations and death, it is still possible for a fully vaccinated person to develop an infection of the nose and throat, mild symptoms, or the ability to transmit the infection to coronavirus to others. “

The Capitol campus has largely reopened since the January 6 uprising; the temporary fences have been removed and the National Guard has disappeared. But tours of the Capitol are not expected to return anytime soon due to the increase in cases of the delta variant, according to an assistant to the House leadership.

Texas lawmakers, who fled Austin to block passage of voting legislation, tested positive after a whirlwind tour of meetings with members of Congress and Vice President Kamala Harris. Harris has been vaccinated.

The vice president’s office said she had since tested negative for the coronavirus and was being monitored.

COVID-19 precautions on Capitol Hill have become as controversial as the rest of the country. The House has demanded lawmakers to wear masks on the House floor, which some members bristled against. The House and Senate staggered the votes to have fewer people in each chamber at the same time. The Chamber allows remote voting, relayed by colleagues.

The House dropped the mask requirement in mid-June, as more and more members and staff were getting vaccinated. The Senate has never required masks, but some members and staff do wear them.

Representative Ro Khanna, D-Calif., Said on Tuesday he would like to reinstate the mask requirement. He said this view is shared by others with unvaccinated children.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said he would work with Monahan on advice on masks and the delta variant.

“We’re going to listen to science, outright,” Schumer said.

Senatorial Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Who suffered from polio as a child, has advocated for vaccination. He said on Tuesday that 97% of hospitalizations are unvaccinated people.

“These shots have to get into everyone’s arms as quickly as possible, otherwise we’re going to end up in the fall in a situation we don’t aspire to, which we experienced last year,” McConnell said. .

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said COVID-19 vaccines are very effective but do not provide 100% protection. This means that a small percentage of people who are fully vaccinated will still get COVID-19 if exposed to the virus that causes it, according to the CDC.

Vaccinated people who have breakthrough infections are much less likely to become seriously ill or die. Of the more than 159 million fully vaccinated people in the United States, about 5,500 have been hospitalized or died from COVID-19 as of July 12, according to the CDC.

“Unfortunately, cases are increasing now, especially in communities where vaccination rates are very low,” President Joe Biden said on Monday. praising the economic recovery. “Just four states accounted for nearly 40% of all cases last week. Virtually all hospitalizations and deaths occur among unvaccinated Americans. These tragedies are preventable.”

Adalja said the goal of the vaccines is to reduce deaths and hospitalizations from the disease, which they have accomplished, and to reduce the spread of the disease. But he said the virus would remain in circulation even after widespread vaccinations.

“Ten years from now there will be cases of COVID,” Adalja said. “Our goal is to deny the ability of the virus to put our hospitals in crisis and make it a much more manageable respiratory virus, like we created the flu or other respiratory viruses. This is what the vaccine does.


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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID cases rock Washington; experts call for vaccine amid delta variant

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