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Photo: Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Congress' in-house doctor told Capitol Hill staffers at a close-door meeting this week that he expects 70-150 million people in the U.S. — roughly a third of the country — to contract the coronavirus, two sources briefed on the meeting tell Axios.

Why it matters: That estimate, which is in line with other projections from health experts, underscores the potential seriousness of this outbreak even as the White House has been downplaying its severity in an attempt to keep public panic at bay.

Dr. Brian Monahan, the attending physician of the U.S. Congress, told Senate chiefs of staff, staff directors, administrative managers and chief clerks from both parties on Tuesday that they should prepare for the worst, and offered advice on how to remain healthy.

Between the lines: Forecasting the spread of a virus is difficult, and the range of realistic possibilities is wide.

  • But other estimates, including statistical modeling from Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch, have said that somewhere between 20% and 60% of adults worldwide might catch the virus.

Yes, but: These estimates include people who will get sick and make a full recovery, and many people will catch the virus without ever feeling seriously ill.

  • Monahan told staffers that about 80% of people who contract coronavirus will ultimately be fine, one of the sources said.
  • Monahan's office declined to comment.

Meanwhile, Democratic and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have told lawmakers they have no immediate plans to close Congress, despite it being a potential petri dish for the virus.

  • Many lawmakers fit high-risk profiles because they're over 60, have underlying health conditions and are mixing in close quarters with visitors, staff and reporters.

Go deeper: The latest coronavirus developments

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to say that Monahan told staffers he expects 70-150 million cases, not 75-150 million.

Go deeper

Congress plots COVID pandemic-era office upgrades

oving crates outside Rep. Elise Stefanik's old office Tuesday. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The House plans to renovate members' suites even though staff are worried about an influx of contractors and D.C. is tightening restrictions on large gatherings, some staffers told Axios.

Why it matters: The Capitol has been closed to public tours since March. Work over the holiday season comes as U.S. coronavirus cases spike, Americans beg for more pandemic assistance and food lines grow.

Trump pressures Barr to release so-called Durham report

Bill Barr. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Trump and his allies are piling extreme pressure on Attorney General Bill Barr to release a report that Trump believes could hurt perceived Obama-era enemies — and view Barr's designation of John Durham as special counsel as a stall tactic, sources familiar with the conversations tell Axios.

Why it matters: Speculation over Barr's fate grew on Tuesday, with just 49 days remaining in Trump's presidency, after Barr gave an interview to the Associated Press in which he said the Justice Department has not uncovered evidence of widespread fraud that could change the election's outcome.

CDC to cut guidance on quarantine period for coronavirus exposure

A health care worker oversees cars as people arrive to get tested for coronavirus at a testing site in Arlington, Virginia, on Tuesday. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

The CDC will soon shorten its guidance for quarantine periods following exposure to COVID-19, AP reported Tuesday and Axios can confirm.

Why it matters: Quarantine helps prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which can occur before a person knows they're sick or if they're infected without feeling any symptoms. The current recommended period to stay home if exposed to the virus is 14 days. The CDC plans to amend this to 10 days or seven with a negative test, an official told Axios.

  • The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.