Posted 6:55 p.m. Oct. 29
By Jason J. Safdi?
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
Unfazed by the new dangers of bioterrorism, determined students working as interns on Capitol Hill said they eagerly anticipate returning to their offices this week.
Because of the security sweeps conducted by health and law enforcement authorities, many students have been out of work for weeks.
“I’m not really concerned at all,” said George Washington University sophomore Jonah Zinn, an intern for Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass). “There was no anthrax found in Cannon.”
The Cannon House Office Building reopened Thursday.
Michael Mershon, press secretary for McGovern, said demand for staff and interns had to be reduced temporarily because the General Accounting Office’s temporary office space could not accommodate all staff and interns.
Mershon said interns were be back to work at the end of last week. He also noticed that since mail has been under such great scrutiny, use of e-mail has picked up “noticeably.”
Students expressed their readiness to return to work.
“No one is thinking of quitting in my office,” said GW junior Erik Yassenoff, who works for Rep. Dave Hobson of Ohio. “Everyone is taking (the anthrax scares) in stride.”
Yassenoff said he will be “watching more closely” for suspicious mail than he had in the past.
One intern working for Sen. Charles Schumer of New York in the Hart building noted she would not be handling the mail anymore. The Hart building is where the first known detection of anthrax took place on Capitol Hill two weeks ago in a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, exposing nearly 30 members of his staff and others in the vicinity.
“I’m not going to do the mail the anymore; I’ll do something else in the office,” junior Arianna Gleckel said. “It’s been a nice break, but I’m ready to go back.”
Mershon added any interns feeling uncomfortable with handling the mail would be afforded the opportunity to work on other projects. He said sealed plastic bags similar to those used to keep sandwiches fresh have been distributed to all offices to better contain suspicious mail when identified.
The U.S. Capitol Police are also in the process of briefing interns in person on how to process mail believed to contain biological agents, said Mershon.
Congressional staff have been in daily communication with interns and their parents to keep them updated.
“My congressman’s chief of staff and internship coordinator called me to keep me informed and gave me their telephone numbers if my parents wanted more information,” Zinn said.
Capitol health authorities’ management of bioterrorism information received high marks from interns.
“The Capitol Physician’s Office has done a great job of keeping us informed,” Mershon said.
“I trust the authorities are doing everything they can to help keep us safe,” Zinn said.
The Longworth building, home to House offices and containing one of Capitol Hill’s largest mail rooms, will remain closed pending further investigation.