Capitol riot was potential COVID-19 superspreader, experts say

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Lawmakers and health experts are concerned about the spread of COVID-19 after thousands of rioters supporting President Donald Trump swarmed the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6. 

Scientists say the storming of the Capitol could have contributed to the COVID-19 pandemic as a so-called superspreader, according to The Washington Post

"This was in some many ways an extraordinarily dangerous event yesterday, not only from the security aspects but from the public health aspects, and there will be a fair amount of disease that comes from it," Eric Toner, MD, senior scholar at the John Hopkins Center for Health Security, told the Post Jan. 7. 

Many of the rioters who entered the Capitol were not wearing masks or making any effort at social distancing, according to The New York Times. The unmasked people shouting indoors in crowded rooms may have transformed the riot into a superspreader, scientists told the Times

"It has all the elements of what we warn people about," Anne Rimoin, PhD, an epidemiologist at the University of California Los Angeles, told the Times. "People yelling and screaming, chanting, exerting themselves — all of those things provide opportunity for the virus to spread, and this virus takes those opportunities."

Lawmakers who hunkered down in a secure room may have been exposed to someone in the same location who was infected with COVID-19, according to the Office of Attending Physician. 

"On Wednesday January 6, many members of the House community were in protective isolation in room located in a large committee hearing space," Brian Monahan, MD, the attending physician to Congress, wrote in an email that was sent to members of Congress Jan. 10. "The time in this room was several hours for some and briefer for others. During this time, individuals may have been exposed to another occupant with coronavirus infection." 

Dr. Monahan, who did not specify how many people were in the secure holding room, told lawmakers to get a PCR COVID-19 test this week as a precaution.

U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa., said 300 to 400 people were placed in a secure location during the riot. Holding hundreds of members of Congress in the same location is a COVID-19 "super-spreader event," Ms. Wild told CBS News Jan. 6. Ms. Wild said about half of the people in the secure holding room were not wearing masks, even after they were offered.

At least 50 police officers were injured during the riot and five people died. Fifteen police officers were among those hospitalized after rioters stormed the Capitol, according to The Hill.

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