WASHINGTON — Capitol Hill was enveloped in surreal, anthrax-fueled confusion Wednesday, as shocked pols offered contradictory statements and edicts, helping to drive the stock market down 151 points.
It was the market’s worst loss since the first week after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
More than 30 staffers from at least two U.S. Senate offices tested positive for exposure to the virus. The House of Representatives announced it was closing at the end of the business day until Tuesday. The Senate, trying to present an image of calm, said it would stick around.
NBC News and ABC News appeared to be more fortunate, according to preliminary anthrax test results. ABC News prexy David Westin was happy to report that testing showed no anthrax in the ventilation system, although no employee results have come back.
NBC prexy-chief operating officer Andy Lack said the first 500 test results were all negative — excepting, of course, the aide to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw who came down with anthrax after opening a piece of hate mail peppered with a powdery substance.
“We can all breathe a collective sigh of relief. It is safe to work at 30 (Rockefeller Center),” Lack said. At the same time, Lack said testing revealed that there are some anthrax spores around the area where the letter was opened.
Some ABC staffers questioned why NBC News tested more than 1,000 employees for anthrax exposure while ABC News said it was only necessary for about 150 to take the test after announcing late Monday that a baby visiting the newsroom in September had come down with anthrax.
Westin did his best to reassure in an email sent to all employees that said the New York Health Dept. would be more than happy to do more testing.
“Some of you have pointed out that NBC began with a much wider pattern of testing, which is true. The authorities have told us that this was in part because they had not really dealt with this type of event before in New York City,” Westin said.
“Each of you who spent time on the second or third floors between Sept. 21 and Oct. 5 will need to decide for yourselves whether to take advantage of the testing being made available. I do not plan to be tested.”
Westin said he was called by New York Gov. George Pataki about the results of the ventilation tests. (The governor, meanwhile, ordered his office closed later Wednesday due to positive testing for anthrax.)
The testing of the 150 ABC employees is going smoothly, with medical teams working 11 hours a day, Westin said in his email. Test results are forthcoming.
In his update, Lack said the Peacock learned Wednesday afternoon of the results of 500 of the 1,304 tests done.
“I’ve got great news,” Lack said. “Not one of those tests showed any signs of anthrax exposure — that includes every test taken on Friday.”
The Centers for Disease Control is working with the Peacock to clean the area where there is evidence of anthrax spores, Lack said. “While none of our employees need worry about being infected with the anthrax disease, our building does need some care.”
In Washington, three entertainment lobbyists were awaiting word on anthrax tests they took as a result of being in the vicinity of the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) around the time his staff opened an anthrax-laced letter Tuesday.
Some regular business was conducted on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, including a hearing on the ban of news helicopters in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Radio-Television Directors Assn. prexy Barbara Cochran testified that the Federal Aviation Administration ban over major cities is close to being a violation of the First Amendment.