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Congress Faces Anthrax Threat - 2001-10-17

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle says the Senate will be in business Thursday, even though at least 31 people have tested positive for anthrax exposure. House leaders, however, have decided to close down their chamber until Tuesday to check for the presence of anthrax.

Senator Daschle says none of those who tested positive for anthrax exposure is infected, and all are being treated with antibiotics.

They were exposed to anthrax Monday, after an aide to Senator Daschle opened a letter that was found to contain the potentially deadly bacteria.

But the Senator says the incident is an isolated one, saying "I am absolutely determined to ensure that the Senate continues to do its work."

Republican Minority Leader Trent Lott also sought to play down any concerns. "There is no risk there in the Capitol, and we feel competent we can continue to get our work done while taking necessary precautions to protect the people that work with us," said Mr. Lott.

But while Senate leaders were underscoring the importance of keeping the their chamber open, Speaker Dennis Hastert defended his decision to close the House. "We thought the best, prudent situation was to ask and to do an environmental sweep to make sure we don't have any anthrax spores loose and moving around in any of our office buildings, or in the Capitol itself," he said.

Mr. Hastert says one of his offices had been quarantined when a suspicious package was discovered. The package is now undergoing testing.

Although the Senate will conduct business Thursday, Senate offices will be shut down so they can be checked for anthrax.