(CNN)House and Senate authorities are preparing in case of a coronavirus outbreak on Capitol grounds, with lawmakers and aides discussing how to keep Congress functioning if the disease threatens Hill operations.
A number of House and Senate offices have begun practicing how they would operate if a chunk of aides were forced into quarantine and had to work from home, congressional sources say. US Capitol Police are working to ensure that secure communications can continue off-site. The leaders of key congressional committees, along with law enforcement authorities and the Capitol physician’s office, have informed each lawmaker’s office to prepare contingency plans in case of an outbreak.
And lawmakers say it’s possible that more extreme measures could have to be taken — such as limiting tourists in the Capitol or moving legislative business off-site — though those measures are not yet seriously being considered.
The uptick in discussions reflects the growing realization that it’s only a matter of time before an aide or a member of Congress tests positive for the disease or is exposed to it, something that could cause staff or lawmakers to be quarantined for two weeks and upend legislative business on the Hill.
Moreover, lawmakers and aides tell CNN that the current concerns rest on the likelihood of coming into contact with an individual who contracted the virus. That became a more distinct possibility after several coronavirus cases were reported Thursday in nearby Montgomery County, Maryland — and after some attendees of an American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference were in contact with an individual who contracted coronavirus. Many aides and lawmakers also attended the AIPAC conference, and the Capitol physician’s office indicated it was monitoring the situation.
The signs the Capitol is preparing are visible, with hand sanitizers littering virtually every corner of the building.
“It’s good to have it these days,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said as he took a glob of Purell from his leadership suite and walked into a party lunch.
In the basement of the Capitol on Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with McConnell and the two other top leaders of Congress — Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — in a classified session with law enforcement authorities and the Capitol physician’s office to discuss how to keep operations intact in case of an outbreak.
“The police chief gave us a presentation about what was being done to make sure that the police, the security that protects the Capitol is secure as well,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday. “The leadership of the Capitol is always concerned about the security of the Capitol. And now it is coming down more in terms of not only security, but the health security.”
Senate Rules Chairman Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican who has privately met with the Senate sergeant-at-arms and Capitol physician’s office about planning for an outbreak, said that “past practice” isn’t “very definitive on this.”
“I think it was actually 1918 that the Capitol was actually closed for health reasons,” Blunt said, referring to the pandemic flu that affected one-third of the world’s population. “There would need to be something that was very concentrated in Washington, DC, before that’s eve