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Senate allows small public tours to resume in the Capitol

The building has been closed off to most members of the public since the pandemic began

Tourists arrive at the Capitol Visitors Center in Washington on March 12, 2020 before the pandemic caused the Capitol Visitor Center to close to all tours.
Tourists arrive at the Capitol Visitors Center in Washington on March 12, 2020 before the pandemic caused the Capitol Visitor Center to close to all tours. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate sergeant-at-arms has relaxed its pandemic policy on public tours in the Capitol, saying some guests can once again visit the building.

The new guidance allows small staff-led tours in a limited area on the Senate side. Two tours of up to six guests each will be open to visitors every half-hour between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, according to a memo circulated to Senate offices and obtained by CQ Roll Call.

The tours are limited to 30 minutes and will be allowed to include only the Crypt, the Rotunda and the Brumidi Corridor. Areas like the Capitol Visitor Center, the Old Senate Chamber and the Old Supreme Court Chamber will remain off-limits.

Offices will be capped at two tours per week. All guests must complete a health screening before visiting and be advised of CDC recommendations that people should wear masks indoors, the guidance said. It did not say whether visitors must be vaccinated. The office of the Senate SAA did not respond to a request for comment.

Staffers must send the names of those invited on tours at least 24 hours in advance. Members of the public seeking a tour would start by submitting a request to their home state senator’s office.

The new policy represents a shift from existing protocol, which allowed Senate staff to meet visitors with official business and escort them to meetings. Sometimes the route meandered through the Rotunda or other more scenic parts of the Capitol, but a formal public tour policy provides a more sanctioned policy for allowing people into the building.

The change also reflects the piecemeal nature of the sprawling complex. The House side has made no announcement that it will allow offices to welcome constituents eager to see the sights.

The iconic Capitol Visitor Center, where public tours originated before the pandemic, remains closed to tours. The red coat-wearing tour guides, a staple of pre-pandemic public tours of the Capitol, are still largely absent from the building, though the CVC does offer virtual tours.

Fully reopening the Capitol to members of the public would be a decision made by the House and Senate SAAs in consultation with the Office of the Attending Physician, taking into account both concerns related to COVID-19 safety and post-Jan. 6 security considerations.

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