Planning exercises for H1N1 on capitol hill: senators and staff to get masksSubmitted by SteveMT on Mon, 09/21/2009 - 14:46
Capitol alert for H1N1 outbreak; senators and staff to get masks
By Jordy Yager - 09/21/09 06:35 AM ET
Senate officials are holding internal planning exercises this week to prepare for a swine flu outbreak that could hobble congressional offices.
The office of the Senate Sergeant at Arms (SAA) has been talking with Senate offices and attending Senate luncheons since the disease first began to spread in the spring.
“It is becoming second nature to us right now about how to proceed,” said Terry Gainer, the Senate Sergeant at Arms. “And in some respect you kind of want to say, let’s get started with it, we’ve done so much prep work, let’s begin to began.”
The U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) and the Office of the Attending Physician are planning to attend this week’s meeting with the SAA in which they will discuss a variety of different scenarios for how an H1N1 outbreak could affect Congress, including more than 10,000 staffers and nearly 2 million visitors so far this year.
Some have expressed concern for members who have a full workload this fall, saying that if they are infected it may interfere with their ability to attend committee hearings or even vote because doing so could spread the infection.
And while Gainer said senators have been advised to follow the same general guidelines the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has given to the rest of the country -- “if you don’t feel well, you shouldn’t come to work” -- he said the ultimate decision will be left up to the senators.
“Senators, like any other critical position, have to balance that,” Gainer said. “So if they’re in the midst of any particular issues, they have to see how they can work through that and fortunately, to my knowledge, it hasn’t arisen. The bottom line is there’s no special member rules.”
Neither the Senate SAA nor the House SAA is planning to offer testing for members or staff. Instead they are planning to treat any flu-like symptoms as if it is the H1N1 strain, and are advising staff to consult their primary care physician. The Senate is planning to provide masks for senators and staff.
House officials have also been holding preparatory meetings with health and security officials in anticipation of an H1N1 outbreak, and are planning to offer more formal recommendations to members in the coming weeks.