Supreme Court closes to the public amid coronavirus fears

The Supreme Court is closing its doors to the public indefinitely as concerns over the coronavirus pandemic spread across Washington.

Citing “concern for the health and safety of the public and Supreme Court employees,” the public information office for the highest court in the country announced that it would be closing to the public Thursday until further notice.

The building, however, will remain for official business and no case filling deadlines will be extended.

The news comes shortly after Congress announced it is shutting the Capitol to the public until April in reaction to the spread of the coronavirus.

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In a statement, the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms said congressional office buildings and the Congressional Visitor Center, through which tourists enter the Capitol, were also being shuttered.

In an email to lawmakers' offices, the officials said the Capitol will be closed to all tours, including special ones led by House and Senate members and their aides. No tours will be permitted in the Capitol Visitor Center, a massive three-level underground structure, which opened in 2008 and greeted more than 21 million visitors through 2018.

Only lawmakers, staff, journalists and visitors with official business will be permitted to enter the buildings. The closures begin at 5 p.m. EDT Thursday, and the buildings are scheduled to reopen on April 1.

The officials said they were acting on the advice of District of Columbia health officials and of Congress' own doctors.

President Trump's administration and Congress have struggled over how to react to the virus and COVID-19, the disease it can cause that in some cases can be deadly. Congressional leaders have had to balance conflicting desires of protecting lawmakers and staffs from getting sick with keeping one of the country's most visible public buildings open. White House tours have also been temporarily suspended.

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While comprehensive records about past closures of the Capitol weren't immediately available, the building is seldom closed completely to the public. No visitors were allowed immediately after a 1915 bomb threat against the building. And restrictions were placed on access to the visitors' galleries overlooking the House and the Senate in 1954 after Puerto Rican nationalists fired from the House gallery on lawmakers, wounding five of them.

In the fall of 1918, the Capitol was closed briefly to visitors as the Spanish flu spread around the world, killing an estimated tens of millions of people. Around 1,000 people died in the Washington, D.C., region along with at least three members of the House, according to the chamber's historians' office.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.