WASHINGTON – Senate staff members and workers stood calmly outside a makeshift doctor’s office Friday on Capitol Hill, giving little indication of the potentially life-altering information they were waiting to receive.
Test results released Friday would tell them whether they had been exposed to anthrax spores that were unleashed at the Hart Senate office building Monday.
While the rest of the country seemed gripped with anxiety over anthrax, Hill workers who were tested Tuesday stood casually, dressed in jeans and jackets against the chilly morning, their business suits abandoned just as Congress had abandoned its offices after the anthrax was found.
“I don’t think anyone was too nervous,” said Amy Hagovsky, a press aide to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Baltimore. “They were just anxious to get the results.”
Aides to Mikulski and Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Baltimore, reported no positive test results in their offices, including the senators.
As of late Friday afternoon, Capitol officials were not reporting any cases beyond the original 31 people who were reported to have tested positive for anthrax exposure Wednesday. And three of three of those cases have since proven negative after further testing.
No one who was lined up on East Capitol Street to get their test results Friday seemed to know what kind of help to expect in the gym, where medical personnel distributed test results, as well as precautionary doses of antibiotic.
Some came just for the antibiotics, while others merely wanted to hear what their tests had shown. Some were hoping to be tested for the first time, only to be directed to another site.
“I’m here because my wife nagged me into coming here,” said Victor Guido, a Clinton construction worker in the Senate, who was there with several co- workers for testing.
Although none of them believed they were exposed to anthrax, they still came hoping for their first examination. They had arrived well ahead of the 10 a.m. opening, but were not upset when they were turned away.
“I thought they handled it really well,” said Pat Watts, another construction worker, before the group was sent down the street to the Capitol physician’s office.
The construction crew lauded emergency officials’ response to the anthrax threat, saying it was much the same as the response to the Sept. 11 attacks – mostly calm and the best that could be done, considering the sudden nature of the attacks and the number of people in danger.
Senate and House office buildings, as well as the entire House side of the Capitol, shut down Wednesday after a staffer for Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle, D-S.D., opened a letter containing anthrax spores.
A legislative staff member for Sen. John Breaux, D-La., said she came Friday for her bottle of Cipro, an anthrax antibiotic, as a precautionary measure. Breaux’s offices are just down the hall from Daschle’s, but she wasn’t worried for her health.
“Even if we inhaled enough to get the infection, they started early enough that we’re going to be fine,” she said.
Mikulski’s staff is just waiting for Tuesday, when the Capitol will shift back into legislative mode. Hagovsky said the staff feels safe, and eager, to return to the Capitol.
“Obviously, we’ll be cautious, but pretty much we’re going back to work,” Hagovsky said.