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Empty hallways outside the U.S. Senate. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Legislatures around the world have been experimenting with remote deliberation during the pandemic, but Congress still insists on in-person voting.

Why it matters: With social distancing rules in place, any physical gathering of a legislative body for voting almost certainly presents a health threat. Unless secure remote voting is permitted, Congress must either largely cease its work — or endanger its members.

What's happening: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Thursday that he would be reconvening the Senate in person starting today — even though the Capitol physician doesn't have enough COVID-19 tests for all senators, as my Axios colleagues reported.

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi, by contrast, reversed plans to reconvene the House after Congress' attending physician advised against it. But that means there will be little House members can do.
  • McConnell and Pelosi jointly agreed to decline the Trump administration's offer of 1,000 rapid coronavirus tests.

Other legislatures in the U.S. and globally have gotten around social distancing by experimenting with remote voting.

  • Over 100 Pennsylvania legislators have been working and voting remotely for the past several weeks. According to FiveThirtyEight, it's mostly worked well — at least once legislators upgraded to computers capable of running Zoom.
  • About 280 members of Canada's parliament recently connected via Zoom to question the government on its response to COVID-19. For Canadians, the most noteworthy part was the chance to rate their MP's living rooms.

What they're saying: Republican Sen. Rob Portman has been a leading voice for remote voting. On Thursday he convened what is believed to be the Senate's first virtual roundtable — appropriately enough, on the subject of remote voting.

  • Portman and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin have proposed a resolution that would allow the Senate majority and minority leaders to permit secure remote voting temporarily during a crisis. Security measures would include identity authentication before voting and verification afterward, along with encryption.
  • "We need this tool in our toolbox moving forward," Portman told Axios. "Today, we face a pandemic. Tomorrow, there could be a new national crisis, preventing members from convening safely."

The bottom line: If the rest of America can get over its Zoom fatigue, Congress can too — and get back to the work of the American people.

Go deeper

Trump rules out socially distanced rallies: "You can't have empty seats"

The upper section is partially empty as President Trump speaks during his June campaign rally at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump said during an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt Tuesday he'd love to hold campaign rallies, but he "can't because of the covid. ... you can't have people sitting next to each other."

Why it matters: Trump is known for electrifying crowds at rallies and connecting with loyal supporters on a huge scale. But Trump stressed to Hewitt and in a separate radio interview earlier Tuesday that it wouldn't work while social distancing is required to prevent the spread of COVID-19. "You can’t have empty seats," Trump told with Fox News Radio.

Updated Aug 11, 2020 - Health

New Zealand reports first local coronavirus cases for 102 days

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern after a press conference at Parliament on July 22 in Wellington, New Zealand. Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Auckland is locking down and the rest of New Zealand faces lesser restrictions for 72 hours after four members of the same family tested positive for COVID-19, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: It's the first cases not in managed isolation for 102 days, Ardern said at a news briefing.

Updated Oct 7, 2020 - Health

World coronavirus updates

Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

New Zealand now has active no coronavirus cases in the community after the final six people linked to the Auckland cluster recovered, the country's Health Ministry confirmed in an email Wednesday.

The big picture: The country's second outbreak won't officially be declared closed until there have been "no new cases for two incubation periods," the ministry said. Auckland will join the rest of NZ in enjoying no domestic restrictions from late Wednesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, declaring that NZ had "beat the virus again."