Violence & Virus at Capitol

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    Workers install a flag on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 9, 2021. They are making preparations for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20. (AP/Patrick Semansky)


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Last week, rioters besieged the U.S. Capitol building. Now the Capitol’s attending physician says House lawmakers may have been exposed to COVID-19 while they sheltered at an undisclosed location.

Dozens of lawmakers were whisked to the secure location after rioters stormed the Capitol on Wednesday. The rush on the building occurred after a large rally of President Trump supporters chose to walk to the building that houses Congress. While most remained peaceful, and some even stood by praying for calm, hundreds of people rushed the steps and climbed up scaffolding. Dozens of those broke windows and burst through doorway barricades to roam the halls and offices. Some ransacked the building, taking furnishings and property of lawmakers and their aides, and littering the Capitol with trash and discarded flags—including the American flag.

While that was happening, some members of Congress huddled for hours together in the large safety room. Others were there for a shorter period.

A Capitol police officer died after he was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher as rioters descended on the building. Several other officers were injured. A woman from California was shot to death by Capitol police. She was climbing through a broken window in an interior doorway that had been barricaded. Three other people died after medical emergencies during the chaos.

Dr. Brian Moynihan notified all lawmakers Sunday of the potential virus exposure. He urged them to be tested. It was unclear whether the doctor was concerned about possible exposure due to many people gathered in a closed space, or if he was aware of an active case of COVID-19 that was present at the time. No infected individual was named.

The doctor wrote that “many members of the House community were in protective isolation in the large room—some for several hours” on Wednesday. He said “individuals may have been exposed to another occupant with coronavirus infection.”

President Trump now could face impeachment charges. Representatives of both major parties criticized the President’s handling of the crowd before and during the riots. They say word choices in his speech near the White House incited violence among some before his supporters marched to the Capitol. He did not speak out immediately through his social media to quiet the crowd when the turmoil was underway. The House could vote on impeachment in a matter of days, less than two weeks before Democratic President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20.

Law enforcement is increasing Capitol security ahead of the inauguration. About 6,200 National Guard members from six states are deploying to support the Capitol police for the next 30 days. Authorities have also installed a fence around the Capitol grounds.

(Workers install a flag on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 9, 2021. They are making preparations for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20. AP/Patrick Semansky)