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Coronavirus closes Capitol to tours

Restrictions will run through the end of March, House and Senate sergeants-at-arms announce

The Senate sergeant-at-arms announced Thursday that the Capitol Visitor Center will be closed to all tours, including those led by members and staff. The Capitol building itself will also be closed to all tours.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday morning that the moves were the right thing to do.

[Outside influences force Congress’ hand on coronavirus protocols]

“This morning, the Senate and House sergeants-at-arms announced the suspension of public tours and nonofficial access to the Capitol complex beginning at the close of business today and running thru the end of March,” McConnell said. “I fully support the decision of these nonpartisan officers.”

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Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called the decision to close the Capitol to the public “A really, really good idea.”

The Capitol and Senate office buildings will remain accessible to members, staff and members of the media credentialed through the sergeant-at-arms.

Visitors with official business in the Senate will need to be met by Senate staff at an entrance and escorted to their meetings.

“Visitors must be escorted by staff at all times. Staff may only escort a maximum of 15 visitors at a time,” the sergeant-at-arms announced in a memo.

The House and Senate sergeants-at-arms put also put out a joint statement, clarifying that the restrictions would end at 8 a.m. on April 1.

“We are taking this temporary action out of concern for the health and safety of congressional employees as well as the public,” House SAA Paul D. Irving and Senate SAA Michael C. Stenger wrote. “We appreciate the understanding of those with planned visits interrupted by this necessary, but prudent, decision.”

An estimated 3 million to 5 million people from around the world visit the Capitol each year, a large percentage of those entering through the Capitol Visitor Center.

The spring is usually an especially busy season for school groups, advocacy organizations and tourists to visit.

CVC employees, including the red-coated tour guides, interact with massive groups of visitors from all over the world.

House Administration Committee ranking member Rodney Davis met with CVC workers on Wednesday ahead of the official announcement of the CVC closure.

Many have been raising the alarm for weeks about risks posed by the lack of hygiene and social distancing best-practices among visitors and now face weeks without their job.

Meanwhile, the Library of Congress announced it is closing to the public until April 1.

“During the closure, all Library-sponsored public programs are postponed or cancelled through the end of March. Whenever possible, the Library will reschedule the public programs originally scheduled during the closure period,” reads a memo from the library.

LOC employees, contractors and credentialed Capitol Hill staff will continue to have access to the library buildings. The facilities have an enhanced cleaning schedule with more frequent cleanings of public spaces and restrooms.

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