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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Some senators now say they’d like lawmakers to be tested for the coronavirus, just days after congressional leaders declined an offer of 1,000 tests from the administration of President Donald Trump.
Without testing, “We’re disease vectors,” Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, said Wednesday, adding that Washington is a hot spot for the infection.
The remarks by King and others underscore the pressures facing lawmakers as the U.S. remains seriously short of the amount of testing experts consider necessary. Many members of Congress face higher risks because they’re older and travel often, but they’re also loath to be seen as getting special access to a scarce resource.
On Tuesday, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, chairman of the Senate health committee, said that with more testing becoming available, he expected “attitudes to change quickly” about the decision to rebuff the White House offer of tests. Alexander said lawmakers’ travel back and forth to Washington “creates a highly efficient virus-spreading machine.”
One senator, Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, and seven House members have reported testing positive for the disease. At least 19 congressional employees, including eight Capitol Police officers, have also tested positive, according to a letter last week from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Despite assurances by President Donald Trump that the U.S. has all the testing it needs, public health experts say the country is far short of the tests needed to detect and control fresh outbreaks. The virus is continuing to spread across the country, with over 1.2 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease the virus causes, and more than 72,000 deaths.
While more and faster tests are becoming available, many doctors’ offices and labs have been overwhelmed by demand and long backlogs have been common. A gradual reopening of businesses in some states is likely to increase infections and exacerbate the problem.
Last Friday night — two days before the Senate returned to Washington for the first time in weeks — Health Secretary Alex Azar tweeted that the White House was sending 1,000 tests to the Capitol. Early Saturday, Trump tweeted that there was “tremendous” testing capacity available and said the Senate would be sent a test from Abbott Laboratories that he said produces results in five minutes.
But the next day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., turned aside the offer in a rare joint statement. Trump responded that lawmakers rejected the tests due to “politics.”
McConnell and Pelosi have not changed their minds about declining the White House’s tests, aides said. Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and their aides are routinely tested for the virus, as are visitors who come in contact with them.
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