House setting up 'genius bar' to prepare tech for coronavirus teleworking

The House is setting up a "genius bar" on Capitol Hill on Monday to ensure members of Congress have their offices tech-ready for teleworking in the event of coronavirus quarantines, Fox News has learned.

The bipartisan leaders of the House Administration Committee alerted House members Friday of the coronavirus preparations underway, including the ability to purchase new laptops and cellphones for teleworking.

In an interview Saturday, Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., called the tech services that will be available Monday a "genius bar" so staff can inspect their laptops and telework equipment in case office operations are shuttered because of the coronavirus.

HOUSE PREPARES FOR TELEWORK SCENARIOS AMID CORONAVIRUS THREAT

"They'll set up a Genius Bar and what that means is we want our offices to be prepared," Davis, the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, told Fox News.  "... See what equipment you have that can be workable in the event of a possible emergency. And if you don't have that equipment, we're going to tell you how to get that type of equipment ready, just to be prepared."

Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill.

Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill.

The tech precautions are necessary to make sure constituents can still be served.

"If we're not prepared in the House of Representatives, then we're not going to be prepared to address any ... constituents' needs either,” Davis said.

Changes are already underway at the Capitol complex. There's more hand sanitizing stations and additional bathroom instructions on handwashing, Davis said. Some people have replaced handshakes with fist or elbow taps. And the bins used in security screening stations to collect phones, keys and wallets are being cleaned or replaced, Davis said.

So far there are no conversations on holding House sessions remotely, Davis said, but there is a feeling that with more testing for the coronavirus underway, it's a matter of time before the tourist-rich Capitol is affected.

"You've got 535 people flying into the House, in the Senate, each week from all across this nation; you have millions of people that visit our nation's capital each year. If we are not doing something like this, we would be shirking our responsibilities," Davis said.

CORONAVIRUS: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW

Davis and the chairwoman of the House Administration Committee, Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., sent members a bipartisan memo Friday outlining the coronavirus preparations, as first reported by Fox News.

"With the increase in testing kits available, we're going to see the numbers diagnosed go up. So, we have to be prepared in the House," Davis said.

Teleworking is not very common at the Capitol since the heart of politicians' daily work is face-to-face meetings with constituents and visitors. Each member of Congress has a relatively small staff that juggles everything from answering phones, greeting guests, helping constituents, and working on legislation and media affairs.

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The House and Senate passed last week an $8.3 billion bill that President Trump signed into law to fund the public health response to the outbreak. The package does not include additional funds for members of Congress to safeguard their offices, but Davis said the House has enough resources to ensure there is a "continuance of government operations" in case staff are infected or quarantined.

The preparations come as two major D.C.-area political conferences that attracted plenty of politicians announced COVID-19 virus concerns. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee's (AIPAC) said Wednesday a group of attendees had potentially been in contact with a person from New York who had contracted coronavirus.

And on Saturday, The American Conservative Union (ACU), which hosts the high-profile Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), confirmed that one of this year's conference attendees has tested positive for the virus.