“It’s a nightmare,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Who said he saw about half of the members – including himself – wearing their masks on the crowded home floor on Tuesday. “The mood is frustration and worry.… It’s a disappointing turn of events.”
“I feel a lot more anxious about this,” added Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), Who said she has decided to start wearing her mask with the Delta Variant Spread. ” This is not a problem. “
For now, Capitol doctor Brian Monahan has said he is not reinstating a mask warrant for House and Senate office buildings. But in a letter to Hill’s offices on Tuesday, Monahan warned that the Delta variant is “much more contagious” and poses “a serious risk to the health of unvaccinated people.”
Already, some offices have started to cancel or cut back on public events. Texas Representative Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said GOP leaders have now decided to forgo a planned trip to Israel in August.
“We were going to Israel, head of all freshmen and it just got canceled because of the Delta variant,” McCaul said, adding that one of his main concerns was whether he needed a booster for continued protection.
“The question is … does this Delta pose a risk even to those who have been vaccinated?” McCaul said, noting that he had just spoken to Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), who tested positive for the virus but had previously been vaccinated.
At least one top Democrat, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, has not ruled out a return to mask mandates on Capitol Hill, which were lifted two months ago: “We’re going to have to discuss whether we come back to masks. ”
Hoyer added that Monahan is actively monitoring cases on Capitol Hill and is in close communication with Congressional leaders on whether to update the guidelines.
Another high-ranking Democrat, Sen. Jack Reed (DR.I.), has proposed possibly requiring “proof of vaccination” to enter Capitol Hill – a scenario that would be highly unlikely but illustrates the level of anxiety throughout. the sprawling campus.
“You might need proof of vaccination to enter,” Reed said, citing data that almost all people who become seriously ill are now not vaccinated. As the head of the Senate finance group that oversees the legislature, Reed added that the variant would be a major consideration as the Capitol moves towards normalcy and a full reopening.
While the vast majority of House and Senate members, staff and visitors ditched masks weeks ago, that started to change drastically this week. In the hallways and courtrooms this week, many lawmakers and assistants are once again wearing face covers. This is especially true in the House, where there are hundreds of MPs and thousands more staff who share the same cafeterias and hallways.
The rise in cases among those vaccinated – including a senior official in President’s office Nancy Pelosi and a White House official on Tuesday – has spooked many members and staff whose offices have just returned to full capacity. capacity. Many flocked to the Capitol Hill coronavirus free test site on Tuesday, some for the first time in months.
For many Democrats in the House, there is a sense of acute frustration among GOP lawmakers who have refused vaccines but also go unmasked in public spaces. At least one Republican, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, has received his first dose of the vaccine in recent days, citing the Delta variant. But dozens of House Republicans told reporters they refused to be vaccinated.
“We don’t even know if all of our colleagues are vaccinated across the aisle,” said Rep. Ann Kuster (DN.H.), who is fully vaccinated but said she always avoids the big ones. public places, such as committee hearings, where some of his GOP colleagues have waived vaccines.
“Every workplace across the country is trying to fix this problem right now, and we are setting a terrible example,” Kuster said.
In the upper house, where all Senate Democrats and nearly all Senate Republicans said they had been vaccinated, fewer people wore masks on Tuesday. Yet the transition has been slow: the Senate Democratic caucus only recently returned to in-person lunches and meetings.
Senatorial Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a polio survivor, urged people to get vaccinated “as soon as possible” at a press conference on Tuesday, “otherwise we will find ourselves in the fall in a situation that we do not aspire to, which we have gone through the last year”.
At least some of Hill’s coronavirus cases appeared to come from a visit by a group of Democrats in the Texas state legislature, three of whom then tested positive for the virus over the weekend. On Tuesday morning, a senior Pelosi spokesperson and a White House official tested positive after coming into contact with the group.
Many on Capitol Hill were just starting to breathe a sigh of relief as security measures – linked to both the coronavirus outbreak and the violent January 6 riot – began to recede. The massive fence surrounding the Capitol grounds had just fallen last week.
The house’s office buildings are now fully reopened to staff and official guests, including gymnasiums, although the building is expected to remain closed to public visits for the near future. But several lawmakers and aides, especially Democrats, say their offices are taking more precautions.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), For example, said he would wear a mask at an upcoming meeting with a visitor to his district, who has also been asked to wear a mask.
“There may be another variation, there may be a lot more,” Pocan said, noting that he was not sure how long his office policies were valid. “We are all living his story. But I think what we are seeing is that we need to reinforce prudent behavior.
Not all lawmakers say they are concerned about the spread on Capitol Hill, noting that most members are vaccinated.
“I don’t see this as a major problem, but obviously if something develops and we need to do something different, we will,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). “I will do what the house doctor tells me to do.
Yet several assistants privately complained that there was little guidance across the Capitol on the level of risk in the building or on how often they should get tested if they are already vaccinated. The uncertainty is especially high for vaccinated adults with unvaccinated children, who say there is little certainty about whether they can spread the virus at home.
Reed noted that even with authorized official business visits, the volume of people circulating in the Capitol and office buildings is still much, much lower than it was before the pandemic.
“It’s not like before Covid when the business groups were coming down, they had the Monday to Wednesday group and the Wednesday to Friday group,” Reed said.
“We’re probably not going to do it until fall or maybe next spring,” the Rhode Island Democrat said.
Olivia Beavers and Heather Caygle contributed to this report.