An aide to Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tested positive for the coronavirus after coming into contact last week with a group of Texas lawmakers who were visiting Washington, some of whom later tested positive for the virus.
Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Ms. Pelosi, said on Tuesday that a member of her staff, a senior spokesperson who had been “fully vaccinated,” had tested positive on Monday. He said the aide had had no contact with the speaker since being exposed to the virus.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said a fully vaccinated White House official had also tested positive for the virus “off campus,” was experiencing “mild symptoms,” and remained away from the complex awaiting a test to confirm the diagnosis.
She would not divulge whether the aide had been with the Texas lawmakers, all of whom say they were fully vaccinated as well, who made a high-profile trip to Washington in an effort to block the adoption of a restrictive election law. Axios reported that both the Pelosi aide and the White House aide had had contact with the Texans.
“We know that there will be breakthrough cases,” Ms. Psaki said, adding that there had been previous cases at the White House that had not been disclosed. “This is another reminder of the efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccines against severe illness or hospitalizations.”
She said the aide had no close contact with Mr. Biden or top White House officials.
The Covid vaccines in use in the United States have proven to be effective at reducing the risk of severe symptoms or hospitalization, but infections among fully vaccinated individuals, known as breakthrough infections, are not unheard-of. It is not yet clear whether the highly transmissible Delta variant circulating across the country increases the likelihood of breakthrough infections.
As a result of the positive test, Mr. Hammill said that Ms. Pelosi’s press office was working remotely, with the exception of those aides who had tested negative or did not come into contact with the infected spokesperson.
The news of the infections rattled some on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers and professional staff have been moving toward more normal operations for months now. Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland and the majority leader, said that rising coronavirus cases across the country could force the House to reconsider its relaxation of mask requirements and other pandemic-era measures like the use of proxy voting.
“We are going to have to decide, given the upswing in every state, whether or not prudence demands we go back to wearing a mask,” Mr. Hoyer told reporters on Tuesday.
A short time later, Dr. Brian P. Monahan, the Capitol physician, issued new guidance saying the rising cases could require the return of universal masking, although he would not recommend it for now. He said that “several” congressional aides had experienced breakthrough infections and urged vaccinated people seeking “to further reduce their risk of disease” or transmission to voluntarily put a mask back on.
“Individuals have the personal discretion to wear a mask and future developments in the coronavirus Delta variant local threat may require the resumption of mask wear for all as now seen in several counties in the United States,” he wrote.
Members of the Texas legislature left the state last week to travel to D.C. in last-ditch effort to prevent the passage of a restrictive new voting law by the Republican-controlled legislature. Photographs showed them maskless while traveling to Washington. Since then, six lawmakers on the trip have tested positive for the coronavirus.