Congress likely to restrict Capitol tours out of concern over coronavirus

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Discussions are underway about curbing all non-essential activity at the Capitol amid the coronavirus threat. Fox News is told the conversations will likely mean a suspension of public tours at the Capitol and limits on other access by some personnel and employees on Capitol Hill.

Fox is told that it’s doubtful they would start to curb “personnel” who work on the Hill. Those decisions could be made by individual offices. And, a robust effort is underway to get some aides to telework. Each office may make personnel and telework decisions on their own.

As to limiting official visitors who come for meetings, one source told Fox there could be a scenario where those coming to meet with lawmakers or staff must be escorted.

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Lawmakers and aides alike have howled for days about what they believe are mixed messages being sent on Capitol Hill. On one hand, the Office of the Attending Physician at the Capitol is recommending social distancing and imploring lawmakers to avoid “mingling” around large groups. On the other hand, the Capitol has throbbed all week long with thousands of visitors, parading through the complex on guided tours.

At one point today, the Capitol Rotunda was so packed that aides, lawmakers and others could barely cut from the House side to the Senate side.

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Fox is told that House and Senate leaders, along with officials from both sides of the Capitol, are likely to make a formal announcement in the next day or so over what activities at the Capitol are considered essential. Nothing is finalized yet. But Fox is told the key is to have all the leaders, and House and Senate officers in agreement “for the health, safety and welfare” of those who work on Capitol Hill.

Fox is told one of the least “essential” activities at the Capitol are the tours, and that bringing in members to vote on the floors of the House and Senate are among the most essential. When Fox inquired about whether Congressional tours would be first to go, one informed source replied “yes.”

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There will then be judgments as to whether certain hearings and even official visits to meet with lawmakers are considered essential. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) indicated today that he would work on trimming the length of vote series on the floor. This is an effort to prevent the current 430 House members from lingering together in the chamber too long. Hoyer said he wanted to limit votes to “15 minutes plus two minutes.”

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Lawmakers themselves are struggling with trying to do their work – but also be connected to the people they serve.

“We talk about social distancing. But what is meaningful social distancing? We have to practice what we preach,” said one aide.