WASHINGTON — The U.S. Capitol will reopen to the public on Monday for guided tours for limited groups of people who have registered in advance, congressional officials said, two years after the coronavirus pandemic prompted the cessation of such visits.
Officials said that the resumption would occur in phases, beginning on Monday for school groups and other groups of up to 15 people who would be led by lawmakers or their aides. Congressional offices would each be limited to leading one tour weekly.
Members of the public must book in advance for a tour of the Capitol. U.S. residents can go directly through the offices of their Representatives or Senators. The Congressional offices typically offer their own staff-led tours and most can assist in reserving a general tour, according to U.S. Capitol Police.
Tours can also be booked online. Click here to do so.
The reopening, announced Wednesday, marked Congress’ latest relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions as Washington, D.C., and the world struggle to return to normalcy as the omicron variant wave wanes in the U.S. Mask requirements inside the Capitol were relaxed weeks ago in a gradual easing that has been colored by politics, with Republicans pushing for more aggressive easing of restrictions than Democrats.
A health screening form for all visitors was being “recommended," according to the statement by House Sergeant at Arms William J. Walker and Brian P. Monahan, the Capitol's attending physician.
The Capitol Visitor Center, an adjacent underground complex that has exhibits and a restaurant, would tentatively reopen to limited numbers of visitors on May 30, officials said.
Walker and Monahan said the renewed tours would be monitored with an eye to revamping the new restrictions if needed. They also said they would be guided by how widespread COVID-19 is in the Washington area.
“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,” they wrote.
The two officials said the decision to renew limited tours was made by congressional leaders, the Capitol's medical and visitors services staff, the U.S. Capitol Police and the board that oversees that force.
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, meanwhile, said in a statement Wednesday that the phased reopening of the Capitol was too slow.
“I appreciate today’s announcement that the Capitol will reopen to a limited number of tours,” Norton said in a release. “Capitol tours are particularly useful as educational tools, and prior to the pandemic, schools in D.C. and throughout the country wisely took advantage of them often. However, since the Capitol was first closed to the public because of the pandemic, vaccines have proven effective at preventing severe symptoms, hospitalization and death. 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.”
In normal times, around 3 million people visit the Capitol every year.