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April 13, 2020

Los Angeles Times: Members of Congress learn to work from home during coronavirus crisis



WASHINGTON — Up until about four weeks ago, Rep. Lou Correa wouldn’t have hesitated to hug a tearful constituent as the woman described a problem she wanted his office to investigate.

But a month into the COVID-19 pandemic, the Santa Ana Democrat couldn’t do it. Instead, he wore a mask as he spoke to her, repeatedly reminded her to maintain six feet of distance and kept the conversation brief.

“It was very antihuman,” he said. “It is very [against] our nature as people who are social.”

Like all Americans, members of Congress — known for shaking hands and kissing babies — are embracing social distancing and learning how to do their jobs under stay-at-home orders.

Lawmakers and their staffs have been meeting by phone or virtually to try to conduct business. But there are risks. Senate staffers were warned this week against using Zoom or MaestroConference because of known privacy concerns.

Lawmakers have gone to new lengths to try to be helpful in their constituents’ lives, particularly fielding questions about how to access recently approved financial relief for individuals and businesses. The first coronavirus tele-townhall hosted by Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-San Pedro) had 15,000 participants, a virtually unheard of number compared to in-person versions or prior tele-townhalls.

“We spent the next two days splitting up all the calls to call everyone back to try to get them answers,” she said.