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Text: Sens. Daschle, Lott Anthrax News Briefing

Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2001

Following is the text of remarks by Sen. Thomas Daschle, Sen. Trenet Lott, Sen. Bill Frist and Depute Surgeon General Dr. Kenneth Moritsugu on anthrax in the Capitol.

DASCHLE: Good afternoon, everyone.

As we said this afternoon, from time to time we would be giving you periodic updates, and that's our purpose in coming before you again this afternoon, before the end of the day.

There isn't a whole lot of new information to share, but we did feel that a number of clarifications may be helpful, and we're going to do that.

I would also, for purposes of emphasis especially, remind you and those who may not know that we are in business this afternoon, we're going to be in business tomorrow. We just passed the interior appropriations conference report. And we will hopefully pass the military construction appropriations bill tomorrow.

There are a number of nominations that will be addressed tomorrow. The Judiciary Committee will be reporting out a number of judges, and I know that a series of committee meetings are going to be taking place in various locations, primarily in the Library of Congress, but also here in the Capitol Building itself.

So business activity is, of course, under way. And as I noted earlier, we are vacating the three office buildings in the complex in order to complete our work on sweeping the buildings in our search for additional foreign matter--foreign material. That will be completed no later than the end of the weekend, and we'll be ready to go back to work on Monday.

Before I call on our colleague who has been so extremely helpful in this, Senator Frist, let me call on my partner, Trent Lott.

LOTT: Well, thank you, Senator Daschle. And I appreciate the way that you have continued to work to address the problems associated with the mail that came into your office and the way you've held up under a lot of pressure.

I think we're doing the right thing by continuing to meet with our colleagues and with the media to explain what we're doing, and make sure the American people understand that we're continuing to do our work. There are a lot of meetings going on on a lot of important issues, including terrorism legislation. Good progress was made on that this afternoon.

But also, we want to make sure that we are able to answer your questions, rather than just on the run; to clarify some of the misperceptions or conceptions that have been out there in the media's mind and maybe in the American peoples' mind.

We have good experts here that we believe can answer them. We, of course, also have Dr. Bill Frist, our in-house resident doctor, who is very helpful to us in understanding the some time difficult to understand medical lingo.

So I hope that this will answer some of the questions that Senator Daschle and I have been receiving from you during the afternoon.

Tom, with that, I'll turn it back to you.

DASCHLE: Dr. Frist?

FRIST: Thank you, Tom.

Let me just very, very briefly say the big picture--paint the big picture, and that is things are very much under control; that everybody's going to be OK; that it's been very impressive to me to, sort of, watch the responsiveness both in terms of surveillance, the pulling together under Senator Daschle's leadership, what it really takes, and that is pulling together, in many ways, for the first time society's ever have to address, and that is the very best of the public health system, and that's what we're going to concentrate on over the next few minutes.

We have to look at it as a crime, anthrax through the mail with intent that is to be very destructive. And that involves public health, working hand in hand with law enforcement, with the FBI, with the Capitol Police. And having been involved as an observer in this, as we go through, I just want to share with all of you how impressed I have been in terms of that working hand in hand.

What we want to do now--we just had a press conference, as you know, about five hours ago--what we want to do now, in an attempt to keep people posted, is to focus on those two entities, that is the intelligence, public health, terrorism activity, all of that, put that aside, focus on the public health.

And our public health system is such is that we need to respond--and it really doesn't matter where this bacteria came from, where this anthrax came from, the system is the same. We've got people we need to respond to, there are questions to be answered about a disease that nobody in this room, nobody listening, has ever seen in the United States--very few cases. Most physicians have not seen this. And so, you're seeing this play out before your eyes.

And therefore, we want to concentrate on the public health aspect. The surveillance to be able to answer the questions--where we are today as of 5:15 in our nation's capital, what the implications are to people who have been exposed, who has been tested, what those numbers are. And that's the real purpose today.

With that, we're going to have one principal speaking and that is Dr. Ken Moritsugu, who is deputy surgeon general of the United States of America, and is the principal liaison with Health and Human Services and the team that Senator Daschle has put together to address this issue.

We'll also--without recognizing everybody, and Ken can do that--you should know, though, over the course of today, the command center here, and that's exactly what it is, pulling together law enforcement and public health, includes a broad range of people, experts in the field, including the CDC--Dr. Rema Cavass (ph), deputy director of the Division of Viral Disease, National Center for Infectious Disease, has been with us all day. Larry Siegel (ph), who is, to my left, senior deputy director for medical affairs from the District of Columbia, because it's not just the Capitol that we focus on, because all of us live in the area around here. Roger Gibbs (ph), who's with us, who is really overseeing the surveillance and the sampling across the Capitol as part of this team, program manager from DARPA, which all of you know is Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, and a number of other people that we can mention.

But I think the most useful thing is to turn it to Ken and have him summarize as of where we are today.

Let me just say that you don't have all the answers at any one point in time. It's evolving. We have a seminal event which testing has to be done. How wide do you test? You make an initial decision based on the data that unfolds over time, you reassess six hours later as to whether or not to extend that perimeter, make different recommendations about treatment and about testing. And based on the information that comes tomorrow morning or the next day, it'll be changing, so get used to that.

All the cultures aren't in yet, so get used to that. You'll hear things about false negatives, false positives, don't worry about the details of the science. All of this has been worked out through our public health infrastructure, through our system. They're experts at it. We've got the best epidemiologists in the United States of America focusing on this issue.

I say all that to be reassuring, but also because you are the media and people who are listening want answers right now, but we don't have all the answers. We'll get the answers. We'll get to the root of it, both in terms of intelligence, and also the public health.

But I thank Ken. Let me turn to you. The focus of this meeting is on public health.


MORITSUGU: As many of you are aware, for the last couple of days there have been teams of investigators assisting here in evaluating the recent exposure.

At this time, nasal swab analysis indicates that the exposure has been confined to a very specific area of the Hart Building. We've broadened out our analysis after the initial nasal swab, and as we have broadened out our analysis, we have found that there have been no other positive samples to date.

Thirty-one people have shown the presence of spores: five law enforcement, three in Senator Feingold's office and the balance in Senator Daschle's office.

MORITSUGU: Because of that scientific evidence, the Centers for Disease Control epidemiologists advise that there is no further need for further testing after today. Only those individuals who worked in or visited the fifth or the sixth floor, southeast wing of the Senate Hart Building on Monday should receive the entire 60-day course of antibiotics.

With regard to the environment, at this time there has been no evidence of spores in the ventilation system. We continue to evaluate both the medical as well as the environmental status. And, as was mentioned before, we will bring you that information as it becomes available.

Thank you very much.

DASCHLE: I do think we want to mention the mailroom.

MORITSUGU: Yes, sir.

With regard to the mailroom, among the various tests that were done, there was a single test which appeared to be positive. And because of that, the mailroom also has been placed off-limits. We continue to assess that aspect of the building.

DASCHLE: I'd be happy--we have our bank of experts who are here to answer questions to the best of their ability.

QUESTION: What about Speaker Hastert's office?

QUESTION: Dr. Frist, this is a question that we talked about earlier in the hall, that the size of the spores is the critical question here. What can you tell us about that?

FRIST: Today, as we walked the halls, the big issue among most of you--I guess, America because the threshold's been raised, is this whole question of weaponization of anthrax--of virulence of anthrax.

And the issue was raised yesterday. It took on a life of its own over the course of the night and then today, and I know at a certain hearing certain statements have been made.

We've had General Parker who you heard from today, and in the briefings of the leadership by General Parker, who has actually looked under the microscope, today the following can be said: that he saw no other vegetative growth, that these particles--and he used the words ``garden variety,'' all of which I believe are very reassuring. There is a question of uniformity of the spores themselves, and that has not been settled. We have not been briefed, and people will continue to investigate on the sort of intelligence, FBI arm.

The specimens themselves have gone through the testing at Fort Detrick through General Parker's expertise, using standard immuno-fluorescent testing, looking under the microscope, through polymerase (ph) chain reaction, through Eliza (ph) tests, enzyme-linked immunosorbin (ph) assays--all of which has given certain information, but at this juncture that it has been sent off to other laboratories in the country for further analysis. And you will not hear statements from the FBI or from any of us beyond that.

The questions are, how uniform? We can't answer that. Particle size? Around the one to two to three micron level, you know it's easier to what is called aerosolize the particles, but we have no evidence that this is necessarily across-the-board of that small size.

The good news and the good news you heard today is that this bug, this bacteria that has a shell or a spore around it, is sensitive to every single antibiotic for which it was tested--that's penicillin, tetracycline, doxycycline, the fluorquinolones, Cipro. And that's good news. That means this thing is eminently treatable. And as we look at the public health side--this arm over here that I'm talking about--it's very reassuring because it doesn't have to be Cipro. It can be penicillin--this range of antibiotics.

Now, weaponization doesn't mean anything to a physician. To a medical scientist it doesn't mean anything. It's, sort of, taken on a life in terms of weaponization.

We can't answer the question, but things like purity will be looked at. Uniformity will be looked at. What agents it's mixed with will be looked at. What agents are used in growing this will be looked at. And whether or not resistance to antibiotics will be looked at. The presence of plasmas will be looked at. It will be looked at; we do not have that information as of today.

DASCHLE: Dr. Frist has given us a very thorough answer. Let me, in much more layman terms, say two things. First, in all the briefings in which I have been in attendance, not once has anyone used the term "weapons grade.'' Secondly, in all of the meetings in which I have been in attendance, every reference to this bacteria has been just as Dr. Frist said: It is treatable.

I think those are the two most important things I hope you all will hear. We've not been briefed on any weapons-grade reference. And secondly, it is treatable.

QUESTION: You were the one who sounded the alarm that it was a very serious strain yesterday, and, in fact, the House people are saying you're the one that got Hastert all freaked out so he's had to send everybody home.


DASCHLE: I do that to people; what can I say?

QUESTION: ``Do you feel like it's less severe than you thought yesterday?'' that's my question. Is it less serious than you thought yesterday?

DASCHLE: I'm not the expert on any one of these issues. Obviously, you've got Dr. First and this whole bank of highly qualified people.

What I heard yesterday was especially the aerosolization of the product was one that I think caused people to be more concerned.

Because it is so aerosolable, it is, you know, something that has us concerned. But again, there is nothing that we know today that would lead us to believe that this is not completely 100 percent treatable, and that's the issue.

It doesn't matter, it seems to me, how big it is, how aerosolable it is, or how potent it is as long as it is completely treatable. And this is completely treatable.

QUESTION: Have you been told by intelligence officials that this appears to be state-sponsored or possibly from Iraq?

DASCHLE: We have not.

LOTT: We just don't know.

Let me just speak further to your question. I thought--perhaps it was Dr. Frist, maybe the admiral--I think Dr. Frist referred to the fact that this is an evolving process. You know, some of the preliminary information we were hearing--or that was being repeated turned out not to be completely accurate, or there were various grades of it. And so, you know, what we were thinking this morning at 7 o'clock was not necessarily the same thing that we found out at 10 o'clock.

And we have had even some good news. I don't know if you focused on what the admiral said, but this afternoon of additional tests that we made that they've all been negative. And so, that's the only thing.

And how we got off on this one particular description of weapons grade--what--I don't even know what the definition of that is. And it may have been being used lightly, which put emphasis on it in the wrong way.

The point that we're all making and that the experts make and now Tom and I are trying to make clear is that this is a strain that is clearly treatable. And that's the--that's the important point we need to focus on.

QUESTION: You talked--there was talk--maybe the deputy should, you know, answer the question, but there was talk about a 60-day course for people that were on the fifth or sixth floor. A, how many people is that? And B, how are you going to distribute these pills, I assume, tomorrow?

MORITSUGU: For those individuals who are on the Senate staff, the medications will be available through the office of the Capitol physician. For other individuals, visitors, the medications will also be available through that same office.

QUESTION: How many people will be on this regimen?

MORITSUGU: I don't have the exact number at this point.

QUESTION: Raw numbers or...

MORITSUGU: I don't have that number at this point.

QUESTION: But are we talking about the 31 here or are we talking about some number beyond that?

MORITSUGU: We are talking about a number larger than 31. As I mentioned, individuals who either worked on or passed through the fifth or sixth floor, southeast wing of the Hart Building on Monday, are those individuals who are to be provided the full 60 days.

QUESTION: So how many people work in that area? Are we talking about a couple of hundred people here?

MORITSUGU: We are talking probably about a couple of hundred people.

QUESTION: Even if those tests come back negative, I guess, tomorrow or the next day, you still expect those people to be on the 60-day regimen?

MORITSUGU: Yes, we do. In an abundance of caution, we believe, looking at it from an epidemiological standpoint, that it is the prudent direction.

QUESTION: And can I ask a question here? We've got a lot of examples of agencies involved, and it would be very good to know what role everybody is playing in the response. And then, how you're going to clean up the offices that will be contaminated. If one particular agency will be--if there is any, sort of, skills needed for that, if one particular agency is going to take care of that.

MORITSUGU: I can begin to address that, if I could. And that is that the response that is occurring here in this situation is truly a multiple departmental response.

The Department of Health and Human Services is very much involved here in providing whatever assistance we can provide. The District of Columbia Health Department is also here. The Department of Defense has provided additional resources and analysis, as well. And this is only to identify a small number of agencies that are working here in collaboration and in partnership.

FRIST: Let me very quickly. Roger Gibbs (ph) has been at this for about 30 years. This is what he does everyday. He's program manager from DARPA. Before all of this even hit, he was in both the mailroom and around doing this.

And Roger, why don't you take the question which basically is overall surveillance, what's being done? And then secondly, how's decontamination carried out? And then after it's carried out, do you have to worry about anything?

GIBBS (ph): Let me address that real quick. I think we touched on this earlier today and said that the FBI was called in initially after the Capitol Police had verified from the samples in the room. We've now transitioned beyond that. We don't need the Capitol Police taking additional samples. The FBI has released it as a crime scene.

So, now we're in the clean-up phase. DOD is going to coordinate those efforts for the additional sampling and the clean-up. We will have the Environmental Protection Agency, the same folks who've been working out in Florida, helping us with the decontamination. We're going to have the NIOSH portion of CDC providing the surveillance for us, both air samples and surface samples. That's the way we've divided this effort at this stage.

QUESTION: Can I ask a question of Senator Frist? From a layman's perspective, how did 25 or 31 people get exposed? You've ruled out so far--or you haven't ruled out, but there's no evidence of exposure in the ventilation system. Clearly 31 people didn't handle the letter. So can somebody help us with how the exposure happened please?

FRIST: Again, real basic, anthrax bacteria spore around it. Three different kinds of disease; it's not different bacteria. It can either go in the air, in which case it can deposit in the nose or go down in the lungs. It can be through a cut on the skin. Or it can be ingested in food of some sort. Those are the three ways.

The nasal swabs, the 31 tests that you heard about today, to date--and again, there may be more. Again, this was the first day. We'll have results back the next day and the next day, and don't be alarmed, just almost expect, maybe a few more--that simply is an environmental test. You don't have the disease. These 31 people are not infected.

FRIST: They don't have disease. They're not sick. It doesn't mean they'll get the disease.

What it means is in the environment, number one, aerosolization air, that there were spores deposited in the nose. Therefore, they're going to be treated because they were in an environment where those spores were for 60 days.

What was the question beyond that?

QUESTION: How did it happen?

FRIST: So it has to be in the air in some way. Is there any disagreement to that? It has to be in the air in some way.

The aerosolization of anthrax, as Senator Daschle mentioned, is something that a lot of people focus on. You have to get these particles down from a bunch of microns of size, a bunch of microns down to one or two microns in order to get from--it will stay in the air for a period of time and in the nose, and then on down into the lungs.

So somewhere or another it's in the air. Does anybody disagree? Of these 31 people that we've seen.

QUESTION: You have a two-floor suite, fifth and sixth floor. Were the 31 people some of them on one floor and some of them on the other floor?

DASCHLE: I would also add to that from what I understand, I think there was some transfer of this from one person to the other on people's clothing. In other words, it was affixed to the clothing of one member of the staff. I know that after this all occurred, there were some hugs that you'd expect, and people were hugging each other, and I think maybe in that effort there could have been the transfer from one person to the next as well. That also, I'm told, can occur.

Do you want to add to that?

MORITSUGU: I'd like to the senator's response there. One, it's our understanding that there is an open stairwell in the senator's suite. And also, under the normal course of air movement in and our of doors, it's possible for the organism, the spores to move around in a building.

And that's the reason why, in doing the analysis--the epidemiological analysis, we identified the fifth and sixth floors, based upon the mapping of where these individuals, the 31 who showed a positive nasal swab, were located.

11th Add, f7116


Senators Daschle And Lott Hold News Conference


QUESTION: You mentioned the clothing issue. With the movement of spores, is there some concern that some of these staffers brought their clothing home and they have got spores on them?

DASCHLE: I suppose it is possible. What the staff were instructed to do were to wash the clothes. And the simple washing of the clothes is all that is required to dispose of any problem associated with the clothing itself.

QUESTION: Doctor, can you give us a universe of the numbers? I know these tests evolve, but the sample that's listed now is positive, what is that of a universe or what?

MORITSUGU: That is one piece that I don't have. We've been working on that, and perhaps the CDC epidemiologists have. I know what you're looking for--the denominator. And let me turn to them and see if they have that information.

KHABBEZ: My understanding is that the 31...


KHABBEZ: Yes. I'm Dr. Rema Khabbez from the CDC.

DASCHLE: How do you spell your last name?

KHABBEZ: K-H-A, two Bs, like in boy, A-Z, zebra.

The 31 positive samples are amongst one--or actually there's an additional 155 negative nasal swabs that we have results on. And as you may know, actually a couple of thousand swabs were taken from people in the Hart Building and in additional buildings.

QUESTION: The 31 is out of, like, less than 200 of the tests you've conducted so far; is that right?

KHABBEZ: These are the tests that we have final results on.

QUESTION: So, in fact, we should be prepared--context of what you're saying is that over the next couple of days, there will be more tests. Does that universe, though, expand beyond the 200 that you already tested, how many people? 1,400?

KHABBEZ: That's certainly possible, although, as previously stated, the 31 positive individuals are in the immediate vicinity, on the floor, the floor below that is contiguous in terms of an open store and building.

So it...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) more negative?


FRIST: Just to finish up on that, because everybody's going to concentrate on the numbers, you want to comment?

MORITSUGU: I'd like to make one comment again, and it was part of my opening statement, that while we had identified 31 nasal swabs that showed the presence of a spore, and that was in the first group that we had done, that even preliminary results on the second and third groups subsequent to that first group are showing all negative. So we're confident that we're not going to see large numbers.

The numbers may change as time goes on, as we have described before, but I don't want people to focus in on other areas. The additional groups that we have done nasal swabs on are farther out in the periphery, and those are the ones that we are getting back at this point as not showing the presence of the organism.

QUESTION: General Parker, a couple of questions: Can you rule out there are any senators who have tested positive?

And, Dr. Khabbez, in the general population, if a thousand people were given this test, not anywhere that you would expect to find this, how many false positives out of a thousand average Americans would turn up? You see what I'm getting at? In other words, if you gave a hundred of these tests to people you wouldn't expect have been exposed, how many would come out positive?

KHABBEZ: I cannot answer that question, I think. You know, bacillus anthracis, you know, exists in the environment, certainly in rural areas. So it depends on where you do the sampling. But I don't have those numbers for you.

Certainly, people could have been exposed and test negative. So it's not a sensitive test, and that's why we don't base treatment decisions on positive or negative. We base it on individuals in an exposed area.

DASCHLE: No senators have had positive swabs, and that's the last word tonight.


© 2001 The Washington Post Company