Capitol placing new restrictions on visitors amid growing coronavirus concerns

Capitol placing new restrictions on visitors amid growing coronavirus concerns
© Greg Nash

The House and Senate will begin placing new, temporary restrictions on who can access the Capitol and congressional office buildings as lawmakers ramp up efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus

Paul Irving, the House sergeant at arms, and Michael Stenger, the Senate sergeant at arms, said in a joint statement that the restrictions will go into place starting at 5 p.m. on Thursday.

"Access to the Capitol and the House and Senate Office buildings will be limited to members, staff, credentialed press and official business visitors," they said. 

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As The Hill reported on Wednesday night, Capitol tours are also being temporarily suspended. 

"We are taking this temporary action out of concern for the health and safety of congressional employees as well as the public. We appreciate the understanding of those with planned visits interrupted by this necessary, but prudent, decision," they added.

The new restrictions are expected to remain in place until April 1.

Lawmakers had been under growing pressure to take action after Washington, D.C., got its first coronavirus cases and several lawmakers had to self-quarantine after being exposed to an individual with the virus.

In addition to Capitol tours, the White House has also suspended tours and the Pentagon has also canceled tours.

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The decision was made before Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) announced that a staffer had contracted the virus, the first known case on Capitol Hill.

But that announcement has had further ramifications, with Sens. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonSunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Negotiators 'far apart' as talks yield little ahead of deadline Hillicon Valley: Facebook bans ads from pro-Trump PAC | Uber reports big drop in revenue | US offers M reward for election interference info MORE (R-Ark.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzPat Fallon wins GOP nomination in race to succeed DNI Ratcliffe The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Negotiators 'far apart' as talks yield little ahead of deadline Wary GOP eyes Meadows shift from brick-thrower to dealmaker MORE (R-Texas) quickly announcing that they are temporarily closing their D.C. offices. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump signs executive orders after coronavirus relief talks falter Coronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority Coronavirus talks collapse as negotiators fail to reach deal MORE (R-Ky.) threw his support behind the decision to temporarily limit access to the Capitol.

"Congress will continue to do our work. Offices will be able to welcome constituents and visitors for meetings and official business by appointment but in deference to the experts and [to] protect the health of the many Americans that travel to our nation's Capitol, tourism and nonofficial access to the Capitol and the complex will be put on pause," he said.