Associated Press closes DC office amid coronavirus fears

The Associated Press said Friday it would temporarily close its office in Washington, D.C. after a staffer who had direct contact with a possible coronavirus patient showed some symptoms of illness.

The staffer was one of hundreds of journalists at the NICAR journalism convention in New Orleans from March 5-8. The conference announced to participants late Tuesday that an attendee had tested positive for the virus, and AP journalists who attended the event were asked to work from home from that point forward. All employees in the office were offered the option to work from home beginning Wednesday.

In the days afterward, the staffer fell ill, and disclosed that they had direct contact with the suspected coronavirus patient. An AP colleague of the staffer also showed some symptoms. In the wake of those developments, the AP closed the office out of “an abundance of caution” and told staffers there to work from home until at least Tuesday, said Executive Editor Sally Buzbee.

The office will also be deep cleaned, said Lauren Easton, an AP spokesperson. The AP journalist who attended the conference is awaiting test results, and the second AP journalist is seeking testing.

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The news agency’s White House, political and campaign coverage will continue, and vote count and race calling operations will go on without interruption. Video and audio operations are also anticipated to continue as normal, Buzbee said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

The Associated Press has also allowed staffers at its global offices, including in New York, London, Rome and Beijing, to work from home given the encouragement for social distancing, but this is the first office to be fully closed.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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