Officials of the Bush administration claim they're now taking a more aggressive approach to protecting people from anthrax after two postal workers in Washington, DC died on Monday.
Add three more possible cases now to the number of DC postal workers infected with the deadly inhalation form of anthrax. Two are already dead, possibly five are now recovering, and thousands of their co-workers are being tested and treated with antibiotics.
After taking a barrage of criticism over their response time to the crisis at the postal center where all of the victims worked, the nation's health officials now have a new mantra: Act fast.
"I am making it clear today to this committee and the American public, the Centers for Disease Control, that when a case of anthrax does emerge, we will immediately move in at any and all postal facilities that might have handled that piece of mail," said Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson.
In a congressional hearing, held away from a mostly closed Capitol Hill, the Secretary of Health and Human Services told lawmakers his people will now err on the side of caution: Test first and ask questions later.
The Bush administration is offering a three-pronged plan: education, investigation, and intervention.
That will be education in the form of millions of postcards sent to Americans nationwide, listing precautions for handling mail.
Investigation hasn't led to much, as Attorney General John Ashcroft acknowledged. "We are not able to rule out an association with the terrorist acts of September the 11th, but neither are we able to draw a conclusive link at this time, in that respect."
Intervention will come in the form of gloves and masks for postal workers and new machinery to vacuum mail-processing machines.
In the meantime, lawmakers are putting on a business-as-usual face, even though they're not working in their usual places.
"We can work out of anywhere. It's not a particular building that makes the US government. It's the people," said Representative Bob Ney, a Republican of Ohio.
The trouble is, the people still don't know what their future holds.
"It changes every 5 minutes," says congressional staff worker Mark Corallo. "I mean we think maybe we'll be back tomorrow and then we're starting to hear maybe Thursday or Friday."
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