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U.S. Capitol complex takes steps toward phased reopening after coronavirus shutdown

The U.S. Capitol on March 14. (Al Drago/Bloomberg News)
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House and Senate officials are considering a phased reopening of the Capitol beginning March 28 after shutting down the complex because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Since March 12, 2020, members of the general public have been restricted from entering the Capitol complex. Only lawmakers, staff, the credentialed Capitol press corps and those deemed to be official visitors have been allowed to enter.

On Monday, staffers for the House Administration and Senate Rules committees, the House and Senate sergeants at arms, and members of the U.S. Capitol Police discussed a draft plan for the reopening, according to a person familiar with the meeting who was not authorized to speak publicly and so spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The proposal, which has not been finalized, lays out a three-phase plan for reopening the complex to visitors and the general public.

The first phase would begin March 28. It would allow for the resumption of staff-led tours, with a limit of 15 people per tour. Visitors on official business also would be allowed, with a 15-person limit. And Capitol tours for K-12 students would resume, with a total of eight tours per day on weekdays and groups limited to a maximum of 50 students.

The second phase would begin May 30 and would involve a limited reopening of the Capitol Visitor Center. During peak season before the pandemic, the center would have as many as 20,000 visitors a day.

The third phase is tentatively expected to begin on Labor Day, Sept. 5. It would involve the reopening of the entire Capitol complex for business as usual.

News of the draft plan was first reported by Punchbowl News.

One of the main concerns addressed at Monday’s meeting was the issue of security in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. According to the person familiar with the meeting, there are roughly 10 percent fewer uniformed Capitol Police officers now than when the pandemic began two years ago.

Some lawmakers, particularly women and people of color, have spoken publicly about how they remain traumatized by what they experienced on Jan. 6 and fear that such an attack could happen again.

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) told The Washington Post last year that for some lawmakers, just seeing members of the public back in the Capitol building could bring back memories of the violence of that day.

“Don’t underestimate the trauma,” Connolly said last year.

Paul Kane contributed to this report.