March 11, 2020 / 4:26 PM / a month ago

U.S. Capitol may need to be closed to visitors in coronavirus response - senior Democrat

Capitol Police officer makes a routine patrol with his dog outside of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

WASHINGTON, March 11 (Reuters) - The U.S. Capitol may need to be closed to visitors at some point to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and lawmakers may need to extend a one week recess already scheduled for next week, the No. 2 Democrat in the House of Representatives said on Wednesday.

“We haven’t yet come to grips with whether or not we ought to close down the Capitol in terms of visitors,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters. “But that certainly is something that we’ll have to consider and that may be a step we need to take ... we’re going to be talking about that.”

Hoyer said congressional leadership is dealing with the coronavirus crisis on a day-to-day basis, and could also decide to extend a one-week recess already scheduled for next week. Lawmakers are expected to leave town for that recess after voting on Thursday, Hoyer said.

But he also stressed that lawmakers could be summoned back to Washington on short notice if needed to deal with the crisis. Neither he nor House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are interested in pursuing the possibility of having lawmakers vote from off-site, Hoyer said.

“If there were something that either the president or the health community or others said, you need to do this and you need to do this in the next 48 hours, we would call everybody back, and that’s happened before,” Hoyer said.

“We are going to deal with this issue with the seriousness and the immediateness that it demands,” he said, adding that lawmakers would make their own decisions about travelling during the recess.

There’s “pretty broad advice that foreign travel is not advisable,” Hoyer said.

Before leaving town Thursday, the House is expected to vote Thursday on a package of Democratic proposals to help Americans impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, including paid sick leave and unemployment insurance, Hoyer said.

The number of U.S. coronavirus cases has risen steadily and has affected almost three-quarters of the states. More than 1,025 cases and 28 deaths have been reported, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Writing by Tim Ahmann; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Tom Brown

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