US Senate returns amid Covid19 pandemic

US Senate returns amid Covid19 pandemic

The Senate will return to Washington, D.C., on Monday, even as the city remains under a stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus.

As the Senate convened Monday en masse for the first time in seven weeks, those who made the trip to Capitol Hill were greeted at security checkpoints by large yellow dots on the floor at six-foot intervals, printed with footprints and a message that read “Thanks for practicing social distancing.”

The Office of the Attending Physician released guidance for the Senate’s reopening to include recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that people wear face masks when they can’t exercise social distancing, limits on staff and visitors in lawmaker offices and a push for staffers to monitor their health with temperature checks before coming to work.

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), 75, said he contemplated not coming and then weighed whether to drive. After speaking to the Capitol’s physician, he decided to fly: The doctor said that was safer than a two-day drive from Illinois.

California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, the oldest member of the Senate, told reporters it was “sobering” to be back at the Capitol.

She didn’t think it was smart for senators to fly in from across the country, but said she wasn’t overly concerned for the health of her colleagues being impacted by being in session.

“I’m sorry, I can’t breathe in this thing,” she said, pulling a surgical mask away from her face while talking to reporters.

Members are also expected to continue crafting and negotiating the fifth coronavirus relief bill, which is already facing major hurdles over what it’ll include and the price tag. The biggest clash has been over funding for state and local governments since Democrats were unsuccessful in including that in the most recent relief bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said last week she believes funding for states and localities could be $1 trillion alone, which is a significant boost from the past funding of $150 billion in the $2 trillion stimulus passed in March. But McConnell has already said that funding will be contingent on including liability protections for businesses starting to reopen – something Democrats indicate is a nonstarter.

As members and staffers descend on the Capitol, Congress will not implement rapid testing for lawmakers. Brian Monahan, the Capitol’s attending physician, said the Senate doesn’t currently have the capacity to test all 100 members for Covid19

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