WASHINGTON -Traces of anthrax were detected in the offices of two Maryland congressional delegates over the weekend, but staffers and Capitol Hill officials said they are confident the situation is under control.
Staffs had already been moved out and offices sealed when anthrax was found in the offices of Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Rep. Elijah Cummings, both Baltimore Democrats.
A spokesman from the Capitol physician’s office said the newly detected contamination poses no health threat and no one was put on additional antibiotics.
Aides to Cummings said the discovery of anthrax was not a shock to anyone in the office and has not significantly disrupted their work.
“I don’t think people were totally surprised, because as the anthrax situation has unfolded, there has been more new, different information every week,” said Vernon Simms, the spokesman. “Many people have gotten accustomed to new information.”
The spore was found Saturday in Cummings’ office in the Longworth House Office Building. His office is next door to one of three House offices where anthrax was first detected on Oct. 18. Two-thirds of Cummings’ office were sealed then, and the spores were detected in that sealed area.
Anthrax spores were detected Sunday in Mikulski’s office in the Hart Senate Office Building, where 11 other offices have been tainted, including the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., where the contamination was first discovered.
Most of Mikulski’s staff is working from a temporary office in the Russell Senate Office Building, while some have been relocated to district offices.
“Things have improved greatly now that we have at least temporary office space,” said Amy Hagovsky, a spokeswoman for Mikulski. “It’s been hard, but we’ve been getting into a groove.”
Hagovsky said staffers have not been back in to the office since the Daschle letter tested positive for anthrax.
“We can’t wait to get back, but I think we all feel the same, in that we just want to make sure the office is completely clean,” Hagovsky said.
The Hart building remains closed since the Daschle letter was discovered Oct. 15. Most of Longworth reopened Nov. 5, but not the area including Cummings’ office. Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, is back in his Longworth office, which has shown no traces of anthrax.
Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Baltimore, is housed in the same wing of Hart as Daschle and Mikulski, but his office has not tested positive for anthrax. Still, it remains closed.
“Of course we’re affected,” said Jesse Jacobs, a Sarbanes spokesman. “Our office has been shut down for nearly a month and we’ve had to relocate to other spaces.”
But he said the staffers are still doing their jobs.
Many are working at an office off of Capitol Hill, but some are working in the makeshift space in Russell, where temporary partitions and six computers have been set up for each senator’s staff. Jacobs said Sarbanes’ staff can access and answer e-mails and use the Internet to conduct business as usual from that office.
Simms said staffers in Cummings’ office were told it should be “about a month” before they can move back in to their regular office.
“We have to be a bit more creative because we don’t have total access to everything we had in our office,” Simms said. “But I think everybody is doing pretty well.”
For now, officials continue to comb congressional office spaces for any other trace of anthrax and decontaminate the spaces that tested positive.
Jacobs said Sarbanes is reassured that his office will be checked carefully for the spore.
“We are fully confident that the people doing the testing will thoroughly check it,” Jacobs said. “The senator will not allow anyone back into the office until the area has been tested.”