Confusion, chaos mar Senate anthrax tests

Hundreds of congressional staffers, workmen and visitors lined up in the Hart Senate Office Building on Wednesday morning for day two of screening for those who may have been exposed to anthrax. Some came because they work on the southeast side of the building, near the office of Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D, where anthrax was found Monday in an envelope addressed to the senator. Others heard that anthrax spores had entered the building's ventilation system, potentially putting them at risk. Then came word that two dozen staffers from Daschle's office had tested positive for anthrax, and the threat became real. "After I heard about the people in Daschle's office, it sort of freaked me out as to what else we don't know," said Sarah Thornton, a member of Democratic Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry's Small Business Committee staff who works in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Thornton got in line at 10 a.m. and brought lunch. By late morning, the line to reach Hart Room 216, Office of the Attending Physician, stretched into the Dirksen building. The U.S. Capitol Police began sorting people into two lines, one for those who were in the southeast part of the Hart building on Monday and one for everyone else. Neither line seemed to move. Shortly after noon, an officer on a bullhorn announced that testing operations were moving to another Senate building - he didn't explain why - and told everyone to get numbers to mark their place in line and start walking. Some didn't hear the new location, so they followed the crowd through the Hart hallways and down into the network of tunnels that link the Senate complex. Bret Schulte, a media intern working for Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, mistakenly followed some workmen out of Hart and into the street. "There was no police escort to help us find the new [testing] room," he said. The Capitol Police couldn't offer much help. "Everything I've heard is from CNN," said one officer, who declined to be identified by name. "It's complete confusion." The police still have no protocol for responding to biochemical outbreaks at the Capitol, the officer said. "Everyday we go to roll call, and we ask what do we do in the event of a biochemical situation," he said. "We've gotten no answers, nothing." Spokespersons with the Capitol Police did not return a phone call requesting comment on the officer's statements. Thornton and Schulte eventually found the new testing site, the caucus room in the Russell building, where the line snaked across two halls of the massive building. As the wait resumed, Russell offices stayed open and staffers tried to work. Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., waved to the crowd and Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., shuffled past with his dog Blarney. Inside the testing room, Mark Gonitzke grabbed a quick lunch. A paramedic and pharmacist with the Office of Emergency Preparedness in the Health and Human Services Department, Gonitzke was one of about 15 public health service officers helping to conduct anthrax tests and dispense the antibiotic drug Cipro. The Capitol Police called in the Public Health Service on Tuesday night to help with the testing, he said. Back in the halls, over 600 people with numbers waited to be tested, while hundreds more without numbers lined up behind them. By Thursday, 31 Senate workers including five Capitol Police officers had tested positive for anthrax bacteria.
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