WASHINGTON - Since the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, 38 U.S. Capitol Police employees have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the head of the officers’ union said Saturday. Cases are also climbing among members of the District of Columbia National Guard stationed around the Capitol.
Meantime, the Justice Department said five more people have been arrested in the Capitol riot, including a county jail guard from New Jersey who took an "emergency holiday" from work to travel to Washington and a Federal Aviation Administration employee from California who is a QAnon follower, court records stated.
In another development, two police officers from rural Virginia who had admitted their participation in the Capitol siege were suspended without pay by their department after a search warrant affidavit disclosed that one told a friend on Jan. 10: "I'm going to war . . . DC on the 20th for sure."
The head of the labor committee for the Capitol Police officers' Fraternal Order of Police chapter, Gus Papathanasiou, said he had been told by the police chief's office that 38 employees tested positive for the virus. He said there was no breakdown on how many were officers at the Capitol on Jan. 6, but he noted that most civilian employees in the department telework and would not have been there during the riot.
"It's mostly officers and supervisors, all sworn personnel" who have contracted the potentially deadly virus, Papathanasiou said. "Who knows if it's going to increase?" There were about 1,400 Capitol Police officers on duty.
During the attack on the Capitol, officers were trying to maintain a safe distance, Papathanasiou said, "but everyone's on top of each other. Then when you've got pepper spray and pepper balls being used, people are coughing and bodily fluids are all over the place." Federal officials estimate roughly 800 rioters invaded the Capitol that afternoon.
Papathanasiou said the officers' union is pushing the department to do more to get officers vaccinated to protect against covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Eva Malecki, spokeswoman for the Capitol Police, did not respond Saturday to questions about the number of viral infections reported within the department. On Friday, she said one of acting chief Yogananda Pittman's "top priorities is to provide USCP officers with the opportunity to receive the covid-19 vaccine, as the vaccine becomes more readily available to first responders."
A Defense Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Friday that coronavirus cases among the thousands of National Guard members who have been stationed at the Capitol in the past two weeks continue to climb, pushing some of them into isolation in hotel rooms in the region. The District National Guard was aware of at least 170 cases as of Friday, with more positive results expected.
Since Jan. 6, 82 members of the District police have tested positive for the virus, according to statistics posted by the department. But the department has not been "able to ascertain if officers who have tested positive for covid-19 contracted it as a result of working during the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6," Officer Hugh Carew said Saturday. He noted that District police officers have continued to work around the city since that day and so might have contracted the virus elsewhere.
Meanwhile, in courtrooms across the country, more alleged rioters were arrested to face charges in the Capitol attack. More than 135 people have been charged so far in a far-reaching investigation.
In New Jersey, Marissa Suarez and Patricia Todisco were charged with trespassing and violent entry of the Capitol after Suarez allegedly sent video and text messages to a friend while inside the building, including "Sooo we've stormed Capitol Hill lol . . . We're inside."
Suarez was a corrections officer with the Monmouth County Sheriff's Office, which notified the FBI of her possible involvement, court records state. She resigned Friday, according to Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden, who said in a statement, "Actions have consequences and that applies to those who participated in the peaceful protests that resulted in violence at the Capitol."
Suarez and Todisco were released after posting bond, according to media reports.
In Muskogee, Okla., Andrew Ericson was arrested Friday on trespassing and disorderly conduct charges. He allegedly sent photos and live-streamed video of himself inside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's conference room, according to an FBI affidavit, and was reportedly seen taking a beer from the speaker's refrigerator. Garret Miller of Dallas County, Texas, also was arrested on trespassing and disorderly conduct charges after allegedly posting photos of himself in the Capitol Rotunda on Facebook and commenting on one, "just wanted to incriminate myself a little, lol," according to court records.
Kevin Strong, an FAA employee in San Bernardino, Calif., could be seen on a national news broadcast on Jan. 6, and co-workers reported him, according to court records. When interviewed by the FBI, Strong acknowledged he was inside the Capitol and provided agents "photos and videos he took from within the Capitol" and told them he "adheres strongly to QAnon ideology," an FBI affidavit states. QAnon is an extremist ideology based on false claims that the FBI has deemed a domestic terrorism threat.
Strong was charged with trespassing and two counts of disorderly conduct.
And in Rocky Mount, Va., officers Thomas Robertson and Jacob Fracker were suspended without pay, their police department announced in a statement. They had previously been on leave with pay. Both officers have acknowledged entering the Capitol but have said publicly they were allowed in and felt they did nothing wrong.
In a search warrant affidavit obtained by The Washington Post, Robertson is quoted telling a friend on Jan. 10 on Facebook: "I'm going to war. Can't speak for everyone." Asked where he was going, Robertson allegedly replied, "DC on the 20th for sure."
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The Washington Post’s Alex Horton and Kimberly Kindy contributed to this report.