US Capitol closed to general public over coronavirus

The U.S. Capitol and nearby congressional office buildings are being closed to the general public over coronavirus concerns, with Congress announcing Thursday that they are allowing access only to lawmakers, staff, press and official business visitors.

House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger, in a joint statement, said that the temporary closure would begin at 5 p.m. ET on Thursday and last through April 1. It also extends to the visitor center.

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“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,” the statement read.

“In addition, access to the Capitol and the House and Senate Office Buildings will be limited to Members, staff, credentialed press and official business visitors,” they 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 continued. “We appreciate the understanding of those with planned visits interrupted by this necessary, but prudent, decision.”

The announcement comes just a day after the World Health Organization designated coronavirus, or COVID-19, an international pandemic.

President Trump on Wednesday night, in an address to the nation from the Oval Office, said he was calling for a temporary halt on air travel to the United States from Europe, excluding flights from the United Kingdom and those carrying cargo, in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.

"The virus will not have a chance against us. No nation is more prepared, or more resilient," Trump said.

Several lawmakers, like Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., have also announced that they will close their D.C. offices.

"I have closed my office and have asked all my staff to stay home," Romney told Fox News on Thursday.

A Romney spokesperson said that his staff will work from home "as a preventative measure," but that Romney "will continue to follow his regular schedule."

Earlier this week, the attending physician for Congress released a statement announcing that "several" lawmakers made contact with an attendee of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) who tested positive for COVID-19.

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Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and now-acting White House chief of staff Mark Meadows subsequently put themselves in self-quarantine "out of an abundance of caution" after being notified by CPAC organizers that they came into contact with the ill attendee. Three senior members of Gosar’s staff are also self-quarantined. None of the lawmakers, or staffers, are known to be experiencing coronavirus symptoms at this time.

Both Trump and Vice President Pence, who has been appointed to lead the official Coronavirus Task Force, attended and spoke at CPAC. Neither came in contact with the ill individual, according to the White House.

Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate are considering new coronavirus legislation.

The outbreak is believed to have originated at an animal and seafood market in the city of Wuhan, China.

As of Thursday morning, there were more than 1,300 cases of coronavirus in the United States, in 44 states, including Washington, D.C. The U.S. has, so far, seen 36 coronavirus-related deaths.

Fox News' Chad Pergram, Jason Donner and Lillian LeCroy and The Associated Press contributed to this report.