House reopens floor tours in latest step toward normalcy
The House is kicking off phase III of its reopening plan on Monday, which includes allowing tours of the floor, marking the chamber’s latest step toward normalcy after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the building to the public.
House Sergeant at Arms William Walker sent a memo to House members and staff on Monday announcing the beginning of phase III. The decision to move to phase III was made in coordination with congressional leadership, the U.S. Capitol Police Board, the attending physician, the U.S. Capitol Police and Capitol Visitor Services, according to the memo.
“Beginning the week of Monday, September 12, 2022, the next phase of the Capitol reopening to tours will begin,” Walker wrote in the memo, which was obtained by The Hill.
Under phase III guidelines, members are now permitted to lead tours on the House floor while the chamber is out of session. Tours on the floor will stop 30 minutes before the chamber is scheduled to begin legislative business. Congressional spouses, former lawmakers and staff are not permitted to lead tours on the floor.
Lawmakers are also now permitted to bring guests to the House galleries while the chamber is in session. A representative or a member of their staff must remain with the guests at all times while in the gallery.
Additionally, with phase III of the reopening plan in full swing, former members of the House are now permitted to conduct tours throughout the Capitol, though groups cannot exceed 50 people.
Monday’s phase III reopening comes exactly 2 1/2 years after the Capitol shut down to the public because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The phased reopening of the Capitol began in March, allowing a limited number of tours throughout the Capitol led by lawmakers and staff. School group visits were also permitted in that wave. Phase II began at the end of May, reopening the Capitol Visitor Center and extending times available for tours.
Group tours led by guides and staff will continue to be available in the Capitol, in addition to member-led tours. Dome tours are also still permitted.
Asked on Monday if there are additional phases in the Capitol’s reopening plan, the U.S. Capitol Police told The Hill that the subsequent timeline and details are up in the air.
“If you look around the Capitol Grounds you will see people running and biking across the plaza and tours walking throughout the halls of the Capitol Building. Things are getting back to normal,” Capitol Police said in a statement.
“Future phases may include opening additional entrances and expanding the number of people on tours, etc. The timeline for and details of the next phase(s) are TBD based on staffing levels,” the department added.
U.S. Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger in March said staffing shortages within the force were delaying the reopening of the Capitol building. He told Politico last month that the department is “at least 300 short of where I would like us to be ultimately.”
“We have put all the things in place that we need to put into place to turn the tide on our staffing, and we now have gotten ahead of attrition. So we are now adding people — we now have more people than we had … at our lowest point, and we continue to add people each month,” he added.
The House lifted its mask mandate in February, before President Biden delivered his State of the Union address.
Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) announced last week that they tested positive for COVID-19.
Updated at 5:25 p.m.
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