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Capitol Hill Policeman, Physician Hold Press Conference

Aired October 20, 2001 - 13:27   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: As you can see, we have a split screen up for our viewers, showing that we have this news conference, looks like it's about to begin on Capitol Hill. Expecting to get the latest information on traces of anthrax. Let's listen in.

LT. DAN NICHOLS, CAPITOL HILL POLICE: I'm Lieutenant Nichols. I'm spokesman with the United States Capitol Police.

We held a press conference today to bring you up to date on where we stand with the situation up on the Hill here.

Since discovery of a letter in the Hart Senate Office Building earlier this week, we've been working diligently with federal, local health care and environmental agencies to investigate this situation further.

This morning, after doing environmental sampling around the Capitol complex, it was discovered that a sample came back from the Ford House Office Building mail room as positive for anthrax.

And it's important to realize that this was not an unexpected situation. We've been trailing the mail through the Capitol complex now for quite some time, and after the discovery in the Hart and the Dirksen, and also at the U.S. Capitol Police Off-Site Delivery Center, testing was done at the Ford Center mail room.

Now we're working with the attending physician of the Capitol to contain the situation. We've been in contact with Governor Ridge and Tommy Thompson. We have the best health care and environmental sampling teams that we have in the nation working on this situation.

We're going to continue to investigate this further and see where this situation leads us. But right now, we have another positive sample that we're looking in to.

I'd like to introduce Dr. John Eisold from the attending physician of the Capitol. He's going to explain the medical side of this briefly.

DR. JOHN EISOLD, CAPITOL PHYSICIAN: Thank you, Dan.

Let me try to put this all in perspective for you. As you are aware, we have tested over 4,000 people and have not found any further positive findings than we have already reported. We've identified a zone in which people need full-dose therapy for a two-month course of treatment. That process of giving results back and treating people is ongoing. And at this time, none of the people who have demonstrated exposure have become symptomatic.

This new finding in the Ford building, as explained by the lieutenant, is actually not surprising if you follow the trail of the mail.

We will approach the mail room in the Ford building the same way we have approached, for example, the off-site mail facility on P Street. We will go ahead and test the workers in that facility and, pending results, will initiate prophylactic antibiotics.

Further recommendations about the course of treatment and whether or not any additional testing need to be done anywhere else will depend on those results and an evaluation by CDC and their analysis.

I think it is very important to understand -- and we have just met with CDC and some of the people via phone conference -- that the lieutenant has just mentioned, there are no recommendations at the present time to expand the testing beyond the mail room at the Ford building.

There will be ongoing environmental testing in all of the buildings and further recommendations about testing will depend on findings there, obviously.

But I think it is vastly important, from a public health perspective -- and this is for the district of Columbia, as well as Capitol Hill -- there is no standing recommendation right now to expand testing further than just the mail workers in that room to identify if there has been any possible exposure. And we will take what steps are necessary to protect them and to ensure their good health.

QUESTION: You had found the machine -- exposure on the machine, but you've not found the package or letter that, presumably, carried the spores?

EISOLD: I don't want to get too far out of my medical expertise, but the answer is yes. They've just -- a machine is environmental.

QUESTION: My understanding of the testing on the House side has been that not every office was scheduled to be tested, was based on a lot of criteria. Do you have to go back and retest now? How do you know that letter is not sitting in an office building right across the street here?

NICHOLS: Well, first of all, I need to explain that this a developing investigation. And we don't know if there's another letter, and it's something we're looking into, or if there's a possibility of cross-contamination with a letter that was received by Senator Daschle.

And that's why we started in the Hart Senate Office Building. We went to the Dirksen, because that's where the mail is processed for -- received from the House -- I'm sorry -- from the off-site delivery center. And then we went to the U.S. Capitol Police Off-Site Delivery Center where the mail is received. From there, the investigation went to the Ford House Office Building mail room, and that's where we got the positive swab returned.

So what we have to do is let the environmental experts continue their investigation and come to a conclusion as to what this means. And this is a continuing process. Environmental testing is going to continue throughout the Capitol complex. And as we get these swab results back, we'll apprise you of what we have, as the situation develops.

The other thing I need to stress is that we were closely coordinating, of course, with the House and Senate leadership on this. And they've been apprised of the situation and they're controlling it very closely. The House members and the Senate members have been apprised of what we have. And recommendations are being made on that aspect also.

QUESTION: Have you done an environmental test yet in the office of -- the personal office of Leader Dick Gephardt that is in the Longworth building? Have you tested that space yet?

NICHOLS: One thing that we are going to resist doing is telling you exactly where we're doing these testings. I can tell you that we're doing the various buildings, and we've done the Dirksen and the Hart Senate Office Buildings, the U.S. Capitol Police Off-Site Delivery Center and the Ford House Office Building, as well as the United States Capitol.

The individual locations within these buildings is information we're not ready to release.

QUESTION: Lieutenant, what does it mean that a letter now was found on the House side of the operation? All the focus had been on the Senate. What does it mean now that there is some exposure on the House side?

NICHOLS: Well, it means that we have to investigate further. That's exactly what it means. And I think it's too early for anyone to draw any kind of conclusions on this. And what we wanted to do, and what we've been doing all along, is being very forthright and telling the public what we have and how this situation develops.

What we don't want to do is have this lead to any speculation and rumor. That's why verifying information of this nature is extremely important, and that's why the information that Dr. Eisold is putting out is extremely important.

People need to understand that we have the best in the world working on this, as far as environmental services go, as far as health care services go. I've been in these meetings and I've watched these people operate and cooperate and discuss this information. And I'm extremely comfortable with how this is being handled.

You know, I'm an employee up here also. And I'm very confident that my health is OK.

QUESTION: Lieutenant, can you also recap where has been searched to this date? Has the whole Hart building, the whole Dirksen building, the whole Capitol now been done?

NICHOLS: That's one issue, as I said earlier, that's one issue we're going to resist getting into for any number of reasons. I can tell you, though, that we have had samplings done in the Dirksen and the Hart buildings of course, the U.S. Capitol Police Off-Site Delivery Center, the Ford House Office Building, and now the U.S. Capitol.

That environment...

QUESTION: How about Longworth?

NICHOLS: I'm sorry. Excuse me. That environmental testing is going to continue. And as that continues, as that process develops, I'll hold press conferences and we'll tell you what other testing we've had. We'll also tell you what other results that we've had come back when the situation warrants.

But we don't want to get ahead of ourselves. This is an ongoing investigation. And we're going to release this information when we can factually tell you what we have at any given time.

QUESTION: Is there a way to tell if the strain of anthrax found on the mail center in the Ford building is the exact same DNA match as what was found in Hart? Is that test being done?

NICHOLS: I'm sorry, that's -- the scientific and medical information of this is really beyond me. I can tell you -- I can tell you that we have had a positive swab come back for anthrax. And in my mind, anthrax is anthrax.

And we found it on the Hart side -- I'm sorry, or in the Hart Senate Office Building. And now we've had the new swab being returned in the Ford.

QUESTION: The reason why I asked is because if the letter -- if it's cross-contamination, that's one thing. If it's another letter, it's another thing. Is there a way to tell?

NICHOLS: I understand that. I just said that's something that we're looking into, but what I don't want to do is get ahead of ourselves here. You know, we will know what we know when we know it. And when we know it, we'll report it to you. What I don't want...

QUESTION: What...

NICHOLS: Excuse me. What I don't want to do is allow this speculation and rumor. You know, these are issues that every one is concerned with. And we are being very forthright in our information. But when we put things out, it's going to be put out very methodically and factually.

QUESTION: And that will take time...

NICHOLS: Of course.

QUESTION: ... and the House is scheduled to come in on Tuesday. Does this new development change the fact that the House is supposed to be in session on Tuesday?

NICHOLS: That's a decision that's going to be made in consultation with the leadership of the House and of the United States Senate. As it stands right now, the goal is for the Senate to come back on Monday and for the House to come back on Tuesday. Now, we'll have to evaluate further to see if this changes that balance or not.

QUESTION: But Lieutenant Nichols, can't you help clear things up with a very quick release of information? I mean, we know that, for instance, that Mr. Gephardt's office is in the Longworth building. This was found in the bundling machine that sends mail over the Longworth. I mean, will you let us know as soon as you get a result on that room...

NICHOLS: I just told that when I have factual information coming back, and once we have swabs and I can identify where that area is, I will give it to you. But I'm...

QUESTION: The previous question is that we do not have any indication yet that there was either a negative or a positive in Gephardt's office. If you did, you would give it to you us?

NICHOLS: Yes. I don't think what I said is contradictory. I said when I have a swab come back, if it has a positive, I will put that information out. All right?

QUESTION: Can you give us the timing of this, sir, like when this swab was taken and when the results came back?

NICHOLS: The swab in the mail room was taken on Wednesday. The results were -- just come back this morning. So the time turnaround on this is important. Because as soon as we can verify this information, put out the factual information, that's what we're going to do.

But you're going to see, folks, that this is going to be done very methodically, and we're not going to rush to judgment on any of this. These issues are too weighty and too important. So this is going to be a methodical, slow process. And we can...

QUESTION: Can you...

NICHOLS: Excuse me. When can verify this information, you will see me or some other subject matter, experts, out here advising you of what we have.

But, you know, we need to act very responsibly in this, both on our side and yours. And I think we've done an extremely good job of that thus far. And it's important that we continue down this road, that the American people need to know the factual information. They need to know it very timely. And that's our pledge, that we're going to get out to you all.

QUESTION: And as of now, are these workers on Cipro, as of now?

NICHOLS: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Are the workers in the mail room there, are they advised to take Cipro...

NICHOLS: I'll let Dr. Eisold...

QUESTION: And how many?

EISOLD: We are in the process of identifying, and then we'll test and treat, just as we said before and as we did before -- identify, test and treat, and carry on from there.

How many? I don't know yet. This is fast-breaking, and we will get that number to you as soon as we have accomplished the testing.

I would just like to comment, though, as you can imagine, it has been a great asset to myself and to the environmental workers to have the House and Senate buildings close down for the past two days. I would say that that has been a very valuable tool so we can do our job, and that is the reason it has been done.

QUESTION: If the turnaround is that long, isn't it going to be tough to open up all the buildings on Tuesday?

EISOLD: I will not comment further on that. As the lieutenant has mentioned, this is ongoing. And in response to your question, and in response to the question over here about is it the same bacillus, these studies do take time, and I think that all the answers aren't readily available on any given day. So that I would just have to say that you have to stay tuned for further developments, and those updates will be provided with you as they break.

QUESTION: Any new information on the 28 who have tested positive, number one? Has that number come down at all?

EISOLD: The number 28 is firm.

QUESTION: And have any of those 28 shown any signs of anything?

EISOLD: All 28 are very healthy.

QUESTION: And for these workers, will they -- after they're tested, will they be then put on antibiotics until their test results come back? Is that how it works?

EISOLD: That is exactly correct. And, again, I would like to encourage people to remember that medicine is an evolving situation. And information today will change what I do tomorrow. And so, if there are -- the answer to your question is yes. Identify, test and treat is what we will do. How long we'll treat or what may happen after that will depend upon what we find in the ensuing days. So that it may seem like we're giving you an inconsistent message sometimes by changing things based on new information, but please be comfortable with that. That is the field and the art of medicine. We change what we do based upon the best clinical information that we have available and the best analysis that we can get from the professionals, such as CDC, USAMRED (ph), DOD, NIH and so on. We do not make decisions in a vacuum.

Our goal is to ensure good health on the Hill. And so that we want to make sure that the people that we're taking care of now are healthy and will remain healthy, that we can identify any further contamination and that when the members come back to both the House and the Senate, that they will be safe to do so. And we want to ensure everybody on the Hill that when we go to work people will not have reason to worry.

QUESTION: Sir, we understand that you have the environmental testing going on in various places. Has any decontamination started? Have you started decontaminating in those areas?

NICHOLS: That's one question I didn't have a chance to ask. Obviously, there's going to be decontamination responsibilities. I think right now the focus is on environmental testing. And when we start decontamination, I'll let you know.

QUESTION: Lieutenant Nichols, just to clarify, the environmental testing will be done on the entire complex, the whole, entire Capitol and every single office building, House and Senate side? Is that correct?

NICHOLS: That's correct.

QUESTION: And your goal is to get that all done before anything is opened back up, correct?

NICHOLS: That's something that's being looked at by the environmental experts. I can't give you a definitive answer on that. I can tell you there's going to be testing in the buildings.

QUESTION: Do you feel you've been able to test thoroughly in the Senate side of the Capitol, even though that was never closed?

NICHOLS: The environmental experts are on this. They're very comfortable with the protocols that they're following. You know, everyone here is acting in the public interest in the public health, so that's the overall goal here, for the environmental experts and of course for the health care experts. And, you know, we're going to ensure that the Capitol complex is safe for return of the congressional staff, the members and the visiting public.

QUESTION: Can you discuss the mail flow out of Ford? Is it just to the House buildings, or does any mail go to the Senate buildings?

NICHOLS: Yes, the mail is received at the U.S. Capitol Police Off-Site Delivery Center. From there, it's split between the House and Senate. It's taken to the Ford for the House; it's taken to the Dirksen for the Senate. And then it goes through further distribution from that point forward.

QUESTION: So any cross-contamination would've had to have occurred at the off-site facility, is that...

NICHOLS: No, let's be careful there. I didn't say there was cross-contamination. I said we're investigating this further, OK? So let's not get ahead of ourselves here. We are investigating this further, and we are trying to determine -- the environmental experts on this are trying to determine the situation down at Ford and if there may be cross-contamination.

QUESTION: But Senate mail goes through Dirksen and House mail goes through Ford.

NICHOLS: It all goes to a common facility. And then it's split and goes to two different facilities. And from there, it's distributed to the offices.

A few housekeeping notes here. From now on, the press information that's being put out is going to be put out through press conferences, and I'm going to put that information out as best I can. I'm not going to take any further questions. And if I develop any further information, I'll give you prior notice. We'll call a press conference and get this out.

Thanks for your cooperation. We'll get more information out to you on a timely basis.

KAGAN: We've been listening to a news conference from Capitol Hill, getting the latest information on those traces of the positive swab of anthrax that showed up in the mail room of the Ford House Office Building. There will be further tests done on mail room workers. Unsure of the number and unsure exactly how many will have to start taking Cipro in response to that.

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