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House to Shut Down After Senate Staffers Exposed to Anthrax

The response comes after 29 staffers working for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), two members of the Capitol police force and three people who work for Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) tested positive for exposure to the bacteria.

On Monday a staffer in Daschle’s office opened a letter that tested positive for anthrax. Feingold’s office is directly next door to Daschle’s mail room in the Hart Senate office building.

Testing positive for exposure does not mean the 34 have been infected with anthrax, it just shows the presence of spores in the nasal passage.

Daschle said none of those tested showed any sign of infection.

“The good news is that everyone will be OK,” he said at a news conference.

Hastert announced House members and their staffs will go home at day’s end so health officials can sweep the Capitol complex, where more than 20,000 people work.

“To ensure safety we thought it best to do a complete sweep, an environmental sweep,” he said, adding that House members and staff would remain home until at least Tuesday.

Senate leaders said they would remain in session through tomorrow as previously scheduled.

“We will not let this stop the work of the Senate,” Daschle said.

Despite the vow to remain open, officials said all three of the Senate’s office buildings would be shut down Thursday and Friday for testing.

Earlier in the day, Hastert said anthrax spores had “gotten into the ventilation system” outside Daschle’s office. But Scott Lillibridge, a bioterrorism expert at the Department of Health and Human Services, said the only known evidence of anthrax was found in Daschle’s office in the Hart Senate Office Building and in a mailroom in the adjascent Dirksen Senate Office Building across the street from the Capitol.

Hundreds of people who work in the southeast section of the Hart building have been tested and are already taking the antibiotic Cipro as a precaution.

Tests at an Army medical research facility at Fort Detrick, Maryland showed that the powder found in the package addressed to Daschle was a very refined and potent form of the bacteria.

Daschle said investigators told him that the strain found in the letter “clearly was produced by someone who knew what he or she was doing.”

According to FBI Director Robert Mueller, the letter sent to Daschle had similarities with another contaminated letter sent to Tom Brokaw at NBC News headquarters in New York. They were both sent from Trenton, N.J. on the same day and the addresses were written in block letters. Both letters also contained threatening messages.

The letter that arrived at NBC caused one anthrax infection and four exposures.

Mueller said there is still no proof that the recent rash of anthrax episodes is connected to the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Yesterday’s closure of a wing of the Hart Senate office building affected the offices of Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), Daschle, Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Arlen Specter (R-Penn.), Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.) And Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.).

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