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Business as Usual at US Senate Despite Anthrax Scare


The U.S. Senate Thursday conducted business as usual, as the rest of the Capitol complex remained closed while inspectors searched for the presence of anthrax. Medical inspectors say they have found no new cases of the potentially deadly bacteria beyond the 31 people who tested positive for exposure on Wednesday.

Republican Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the only medical doctor in the Senate, sought to establish a sense of calm at the U.S. Capitol complex amid heightened concerns about anthrax exposure.

"Things are under control. The system is working," Senator Frist said. "People are working together in a harmonious, almost symphonic way. The anxiety continues to bubble up by individuals. Everybody is doing their best with appropriate counseling."

Senator Frist underscored that there is no indication that the 26 Senate staffers and five policemen who tested positive for anthrax exposure are infected, and he says all are on antibiotics.

A letter opened Monday in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office was found to contain the anthrax bacteria.

More than 1400 people who were in the vicinity at the time have been tested.

Officials say it will take several days to obtain the results of all the tests. But Deputy U.S. Surgeon General Ken Moritsugu says there have been no new cases of exposure reported since Wednesday.

"We continue to receive good news," he said. "Beyond the 31 positive nasal swabs that were reported yesterday, the results of nasal swabs analyzed today have come back negative."

Mr. Moritsugu says anthrax exposure in the Capitol complex has been confined to a specific area of the southeast wing of the Senate Hart Office Building where Senator Daschle's office is located - and a mail room that serves the building. He says tests have thus far found no trace of anthrax bacteria in the Capitol complex's ventilation system.

Meanwhile, leaders of the House continued to defend their decision to close their chamber to allow for testing for anthrax exposure on their side of the Capitol building. It marked an unprecedented halt to business for an environmental safety check.

Senate leaders said their decision to remain open would send a message to the person or persons responsible for sending the anthrax-laced letter that they would not be allowed to disrupt legislative business. In their only vote of the day, the Senate passed a measure resolving differences in House and Senate versions of a military construction appropriations bill.

Both the Senate and House will be closed Friday, and legislative business in both chambers is to resume Tuesday.

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