The U.S. Capitol Building and nearby congressional office buildings will be closed to the public beginning Thursday at 5 p.m. ET and running through April 1, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger said congressional office buildings and the Congressional Visitor Center, through which tourists enter the Capitol, are also being closed.
“Following the guidance of the medical community, particularly the recent recommendation of DC Health, and in consultation with the Office of Attending Physician, the Sergeants at Arms of the House of Representatives and Senate have issued a temporary closure of the Capitol Visitors Center to all tours,” they said in a statement.
Access to the Capitol and the House and Senate office buildings will be limited to "members, staff, credentialed press and official business visitors," the statement added.
“We are taking this temporary action out of concern for the health and safety of congressional employees as well as the public,” the statement said. “We appreciate the understanding of those with planned visits interrupted by this necessary but prudent decision.”
The announcement comes one day after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic and a staffer for a U.S. senator from Washington state tested positive for the coronavirus.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell on Wednesday said she would close her Washington, D.C. office after one of her staffers tested positive for the coronavirus. Other lawmakers announced similar plans.
"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,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor, according to Roll Call. “I fully support the decision of these nonpartisan officers.”