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Officials launch phased Capitol reopening starting next week

The Hill logo The Hill 3/23/2022 Cristina Marcos
U.S. Capitol © AP/Jose Luis Magana U.S. Capitol

A phased reopening of the Capitol, which has been closed to the public for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will officially start next Monday.

House Sergeant-at-Arms William Walker and Capitol physician Brian Monahan announced in a memo to lawmakers and staff on Wednesday that the public reopening will take place gradually over the next few months.

Members of the Capitol Police Board, which includes the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms and the Architect of the Capitol, crafted the reopening plan earlier this month and have now formally approved it.

"We appreciate your continued patience and cooperation as we work together to resume public tours of the Capitol for the American people in a way that protects the health and safety of visitors and institutional staff alike," Walker and Monahan wrote in the memo.

The reopening comes as the Capitol complex has relaxed COVID-19 restrictions in recent weeks while case numbers dropped in the Washington, D.C. region. Monahan in late February rescinded the House mask mandate, following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advising that masks can be optional in areas that meet its updated definition of low community levels of COVID-19.

"The United States Capitol is a global symbol of democracy and a monument to the American people and their government. I am hopeful today's announced phased reopening is a significant first step towards returning to pre-pandemic levels of access for the American public at the United States Capitol," House Administration Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

Starting Monday, the first phase will allow a limited number of tours led by lawmakers and staff, as well as school group visits.

Up to this point, only lawmakers, staff, credentialed journalists and official business visitors have been granted entry to the Capitol.

Video: US Capitol to reopen to public for limited tours after 2 years (TODAY)


Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District of Columbia's representative in Congress, said that she thinks the phased reopening plan is unnecessarily slow as she noted the importance of Capitol tourists to the city's economy."America's symbols of democracy should be accessible to the people we serve. Already, the distance between government and the people has grown, with trust in government at historic lows. We should not entrench that distance further or longer by delaying the reopening of the Capitol, especially when the tools exist to prevent serious illness and death from COVID-19," Norton said.

For the first few months of last year, members of the public couldn't even access the Capitol grounds due to the fence erected after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack by a mob of former President Trump's supporters.

Both lawmakers and staff will be limited to a maximum of 15 people in a tour group and must make reservations through the Capitol Visitor Center. Congressional offices will only be able to reserve one tour per week.

Lawmakers will also be allowed to reserve exclusive tours of the Capitol dome - limited to seven guests - starting April 25.

Not all parts of the Capitol will be immediately accessible to the tours that resume.

Members of the public will not be allowed to visit the House chamber viewing gallery during the first phase of the Capitol reopening. Before the pandemic, congressional offices would issue timed tickets for guests to sit in the viewing gallery to watch floor debate while the House was in session.

The second phase of the Capitol reopening is expected to begin May 30 with a limited reopening of the Capitol Visitor Center.

The memo from Walker and Monahan added that "other areas are expected to reopen to visitors during this phase," such as the Capitol Visitor Center restaurant.

In addition, the U.S. Botanic Garden, which is administered through the Architect of the Capitol and is situated near the House side of the building, will reopen on April 1.

Updated: 3:28 p.m.


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