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FLASH ALERT: CAPITOL RIOT COVID-19 SUPERSPREADER

January 2021 | CTG Emergency Management, Health, and Hazards Team



The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT for the United States House of Representatives, the United States Senate, the United States Capitol Police, the United States Secret Service, the Office of the Vice President of the United States, the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia, journalists in the District of Columbia, District of Columbia residents, the airline industry, the hospitality industry, and local and state departments of health across the country. There is a HIGH PROBABILITY that the attempted insurrection on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, was a COVID-19 superspreader event.


This assessment is based on numerous videos of individuals in tight quarters, very few of whom were wearing masks, as well as reports of individuals who traveled to the event with the knowledge that they were positive for COVID-19 at the time. This threat is magnified by the possibility that individuals carrying the more infectious COVID-19 variant, referred to as “B.1.1.7.” may have been present. All law enforcement officers, congressional staffers, elected officials, and building staff who were present at the Capitol on January 6 should get tested for COVID-19 as soon as possible, as well as practice rigorous use of masks and social distancing to the furthest extent possible. PCR testing is the recommended form of COVID-19 tests that these individuals should take, as this form presents the most accurate results.[1]


On Wednesday, January 6, 2021, USA President Donald Trump addressed a gathering of thousands of supporters, encouraging them to march on Capitol Hill to protest against President-elect Joe Biden’s decisive victory. Members of the crowd, including individuals associated with far-right organizations, stormed the Capitol where they were met with barricades and law enforcement. After forcing their way into the Capitol, the rioters wreaked havoc by openly looting and vandalizing the building. Most of the rioters were not wearing masks, and in many cases, they were packed together in close quarters, both inside and outside the Capitol building. These conditions are highly conducive to the spread of COVID-19.


The Capitol Riot will almost certainly serve as a COVID-19 superspreader. COVID-19 is commonly transmitted between people who are in close proximity with one another through respiratory droplets or aerosols.[2] Considering the large number of people rioting and shouting beside each other, along with a great deal of coughing due to the use of tear gas, this would provide ample opportunity to expose new victims. Estimates suggest that between 3,000 and 20,000 individuals attended the riot.[3] Many of the rioters were followers of QAnon, a conspiracy theory that holds, among other beliefs, that COVID-19 either does not exist or is not dangerous and is only being used by the government for nefarious purposes.[4] At least one individual at the riot, an alt-right livestreamer named Tim Gionet, AKA “Baked Alaska,” claimed to have tested positive for COVID-19 before he stormed the Capitol.[5] Given the presence of conspiracy theorists and individuals such as Gionet, we assess that it is almost certain that other COVID-19 positive individuals were present as well. Moreover, on Thursday, January 7, 2021, the United States reported a new record for daily COVID-19 deaths, surpassing 4,000 for the first time.[6] Given the recent trends, it is appropriate to say that every person at the riot was at risk of being exposed to COVID-19.



Rioters Outside the United States Capitol[7]


CTG and the EMH2 Team assess that with a large influx of people traveling from various states to Washington DC, it is highly likely that there will be a surge of COVID-19 cases in the DC region, as well as in those states that the rioters came from. We know that individuals came from states such as Maryland, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Texas.[8] While this is not an all-inclusive list, some of these states have discovered cases of COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7.[9] It is possible that someone infected with the variant exposed many others at the Capitol Riot.


Anyone who was present at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, should seek a COVID-19 test. It is generally recommended to wait until at least five days after a potential exposure to get tested.[10] Starting on January 11, all present law enforcement officers, elected representatives, congressional staff, building staff, hospitality workers, and individuals in the crowd should seek testing. Additionally, anyone getting a test should try to get a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which is considered the gold standard of COVID-19 testing.[11] After receiving the test, individuals should quarantine themselves if possible. If not possible, they should practice strict mask use, socially distance to the best of their ability, and ensure adequate ventilation in their workspaces if possible.


Conclusion


CTG and the EMH2 Team assess that the probability of increased COVID-19 spread is HIGH. Our evaluation indicates that law enforcement officers, lawmakers, building staff, and anyone else who was present are at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19, given that proper COVID-19 protocols were not adhered to. Because several rioters traveled from different states, it is likely that the spread of COVID-19 will increase in these states once the rioters return. Additionally, there is a MEDIUM-LOW possibility that the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7. was present during the riots. State and local health departments should be on high alert in the coming weeks since rioters have begun to travel back to their home states.



[1] What’s the Difference Between COVID-19 Rapid and PCR Tests?, Memorial Healthcare, November 2020 https://www.memorialhealthcare.org/whats-the-difference-between-covid-19-rapid-and-prc-tests/#:~:text=PCR%20testing%20is%20considered%20the,those%20who%20have%20no%20symptoms.

[2] Coronavirus Resource Center, Harvard Health Publishing, January 2021, https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/coronavirus-resource-center

[3] 82 arrested so far in connection with the pro-Trump Capitol mob, Los Angeles Times, January 2021, https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2021-01-07/capitol-arrests-in-dc-riots

[4] How Covid-19 myths are merging with the QAnon conspiracy theory, BBC, September 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-53997203

[5] Far-right streamer stormed Capitol while Covid positive, The Independent, January 2021, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/capitol-riot-covid-tim-gionet-trump-white-supremacist-b1784316.html

[6] U.S. Records More Than 4,000 Dead In 1 Day From COVID-19, A Grim New Record, NPR, January 2021, https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/01/08/954848161/u-s-records-more-than-4-000-dead-in-1-day-from-covid-19-a-grim-new-record

[7]Tear Gas outside United States Capitol 20210106” by Tyler Merbler licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

[8] People at the US Capitol riot are being identified and losing their jobs, CNN, January 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/07/us/capitol-riots-people-fired-jobs-trnd/index.html

[9] US COVID-19 Cases Caused by Variants, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, January 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant-cases.html

[10] What to do if you were potentially exposed to coronavirus disease (COVID-19)?, Virginia Department of Health, January 2021, https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/local-exposure/

[11] What’s the Difference Between Covid-19 Rapid and PCR Tests?, Memorial Healthcare, November 2020, https://www.memorialhealthcare.org/whats-the-difference-between-covid-19-rapid-and-prc-tests/#:~:text=PCR%20testing%20is%20considered%20the,those%20who%20have%20no%20symptoms

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