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Pelosi invites leaders to briefing on preventing coronavirus spread in Capitol

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has invited leaders in both chambers to a briefing with U.S. Capitol officials about ensuring the complex is prepared to respond to the spread of the coronavirus.
A senior Democratic aide said Monday that there have not been discussions of closing the public galleries or limiting Capitol tours, but the briefing is meant to go over what precautions, if any, would be taken.
“The focus has and will continue to be on preparedness and keeping the Congress open for the People’s business,” the aide said in an email.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) were all invited to the briefing.
McConnell said earlier Monday that discussions were underway about steps to be taken at the Capitol given the thousands of people who work in and visit the complex from all over the country on a regular basis.
“In regard to the Capitol, we’re in the process of determining exactly what precautions, if any, to take at the Capitol to protect those who work here and visit here,” McConnell told a group of reporters on Monday.
Pelosi said in a “Dear Colleague” letter to fellow Democrats over the weekend that the chief administrative officer, House sergeant-at-arms, attending physician and Architect of the Capitol are “engaged in a comprehensive, coordinated response to mitigate any impact on Congressional operations.”
A memo from Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving to lawmakers and staff recommended practical prevention techniques such as encouraging people to cover their mouths when coughing, disinfect surfaces and stay home if they are sick. Irving also suggested that congressional offices consider planning for continuity of operations in the event of a widespread outbreak.
There is precedent for Congress shutting down access to visitors in response to a pandemic.
The House and Senate galleries were closed to the public during the 1918 Spanish influenza outbreak in an effort to prevent additional spread of the disease. Many lawmakers were also absent at the time due to illness, according to the House historian.
Lawmakers are currently working on an emergency spending package to fund the federal government’s response to the coronavirus. The package, which is still being negotiated, could hit the House floor as soon as this week.
As of Monday, six people in the U.S. — so far all in Washington state — have died from the coronavirus.