By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The siege on the U.S. Capitol may have been more than an attack on American democracy. There are now growing concerns it could become a COVID-19 super spreader event.

People were jammed together, many without masks. A member of Congress has already tested positive. Experts say everyone who was at the Capitol on Wednesday is now in potential danger.

The people who were on Capitol Hill have all now dispersed, some on planes, back to their homes and jobs, all potentially spreading COVID-19.

Jammed into the Capitol, chanting and yelling. Doctors say the siege on Congress could lead to a new viral storm — not just for the Trump supporters but also members of Congress, staff and Capitol Police.

Delaware Sen. Chris Coons was in the middle of the madness.

“You had thousands of people openly moving back and forth without masks in chaotic circumstances,” Coons said.

It was ideal for the spread of COVID-19 that’s transmitted through air droplets from the mouth and nose when people are in close contact.

“You add to that now, the use of pepper spray, no masks, people’s eyes watering, wiping their nose, wiping their eyes and you also add in this idea of touching surfaces and contact areas being part of the transmission cycle in these cases,” Dr. John Wherry, director of the Penn Institute for Immunology, said. “I have a lot of concerns about it.”

With rioters inside the building, members of Congress and their staff were moved into safe spaces. Pennsylvania Rep. Susan Wild says she was jammed into a room with 400 people.

“It wasn’t really big enough as a room considering the current pandemic and social distancing issues and so forth,” Wild said. “There were an awful lot of unmasked members.”

One member in that room announced on Twitter that he tested positive for COVID-19.

Experts say there’s a risk, even for people who were wearing masks.

“So, I suspect we’ll see increase infection throughout the country as folks from DC now return to wherever they live,” Wherry said.

Wherry expects it will be similar to what happened with the motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota.

“There is evidence that that ended up translating to a very large percentage of the increase in infections throughout the next month in the entire country,” Wherry said.

Sen. Coons and many other members of Congress had just received their second dose of the coronavirus vaccine before the Capitol siege, so they’re probably protected from being infected.


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Stephanie Stahl