Limited Tours to Resume at US Capitol Starting Monday
WASHINGTON — Limited tours of the U.S. Capitol by the general public, something not seen since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, are set to resume Monday.
An email sent to members of Congress and staff on Wednesday spelled out the new tour regimen, which House Administration Committee Chair Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., described as a “phased reopening” for public visitors and tours.
Beginning Monday, the public will be able to visit the Capitol either on tours conducted by their elected representative or by members of the Capitol staff.
In both cases the number of people on the tours will be capped at 15 and reservations are required.
The Capitol will also welcome school groups from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday. Reservations are required.
Lofgren also announced that the Botanic Garden at the foot of Capitol Hill, first opened to the public in 1850, will fully reopen on April 1.
“The Botanic Garden, first envisioned by George Washington and advanced by James Madison, is a jewel of the Capitol Campus dedicated to educating the American public and demonstrating the importance of plants to the well-being of our nation. I am delighted to authorize fully reopening this remarkable living plant museum to the public,” she said in a written statement.
The announcement marks a significant transition for the Capitol and the businesses that surround it. In a normal year, Capitol Hill attracts some 3 million visitors.
During the pandemic, the only members of the public who could get inside the Capitol aside from members, staff and journalists, were those escorted inside as part of “official business.”
The next major opening is expected to be the Capitol Visitor Center, which is slated to occur in late May.
Because the visitor center remains closed, both staff-led and professionally guided tours will enter through the Longworth House Office Building and the Dirksen Senate Office Building and be escorted to the Capitol through the underground tunnels that feed into it.
The reopening of the Visitor Center has been slowed by staff shortages at the Capitol Police Department, which has lost over 100 officers since the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by insurrectionists loyal to former President Donald Trump.
In January, Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger told lawmakers that his department is 447 officers short of “where we need to be,” for full capacity.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 658, the union that represents the Capitol’s professional tour guides and visitor assistants, has yet to publicly comment on the announcement, but in an anonymous post on its Twitter page, someone identifying themselves as a tour guide said “we are very much against the opening, even for limited school tours.”
“COVID is still a big issue (most of these kids will be coming from places that have very lax COVID policies). Not to mention that none of the security had been upgraded since Jan. 6, , and there are not enough Capitol police to keep us all safe,” the post said.
“We don’t really have a say in the matter. Talk to your coworkers about how they feel, let your members and committees know if you feel unsafe. That’s the only way this will … be more organized when it is safe,” the writer concluded.
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