House sergeant-at-arms says Capitol will remain closed to visitors: ‘I’m afraid of COVID’

The Capitol will remain closed to visitors as cases of the highly contagious coronavirus continue to escalate nationwide, the House sergeant-at-arms told lawmakers Tuesday.,

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The Capitol will remain closed to visitors as cases of the highly contagious coronavirus continue to escalate nationwide, the House sergeant-at-arms told lawmakers Tuesday.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch met for a hearing on the security of the U.S. Capitol and to examine what changes are needed as staffing shortages continue to plague the Capitol Police force – an issue that has been further exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

The House Sergeant-at-Arms William Walker told lawmakers, “We have a plan to reopen the Capitol.”

Members of the U.S. Capitol Police Board, from left, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Karen Gibson, House Sergeant-at-Arms William Walker, and Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger.

Members of the U.S. Capitol Police Board, from left, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Karen Gibson, House Sergeant-at-Arms William Walker, and Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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“The challenge is, everything we’re hearing from Adm. Monahan tells us that opening the Capitol is not safe right now … because of the rising number of COVID infections,” he said referring to the Capitol’s top doctor, Attending Physician Adm. Brian Monahan.

Walker pointed to three people in his own office who have tested positive for the coronavirus despite having been fully vaccinated and boosted with the latest shot.

“I think we would put an undue burden on the United States Capitol Police to have them to be in a challenge of a COVID environment with an open complex with people walking around – some with masks, some without,” Walker said.

“I see people – members, staff – without masks,” he continued. “Sometimes I’ll walk up to them and ask them to put their mask on and some just walk away from me, some put it on.”

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U.S. Capitol Police officers stand outside the House chamber in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022.

U.S. Capitol Police officers stand outside the House chamber in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger, who told lawmakers that the Capitol Police Board is looking to hire 280 officers this year, said the staffing shortages that plagued the Capitol complex in 2021 are expected to persist.

“It’s well over a hundred, maybe even 200, officers that are out because of COVID,” he said. “It’s really impacting us.

“Our overtime, so far, is going to be every bit as bad in FY 22 as it is in ’21,” Manger added.

Manger said officers are following the advice laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and all asymptomatic officers who test positive are isolating for just five days now, as opposed to the 10-day policy originally advised.

Subcommittee ranking member Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., pushed back on Walker’s hesitation to reopen the House of Representatives to the public, given that the Senate has reopened its offices.

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A large group of police arrive at the Capitol, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, in Washington as President Biden and members of Congress mark one year since the Capitol riot.

A large group of police arrive at the Capitol, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, in Washington as President Biden and members of Congress mark one year since the Capitol riot. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

“What I have comprehended from the attending physician, is that it is not safe to bring people into the Capitol,” Walker said, arguing it would be too difficult to ensure every guest that enters the Capitol wears a mask and adheres to the six-feet social distancing protocols.

“I’m afraid of COVID to be honest with you,” he added. “Until he says different, we’re going to follow the guidance of the attending physician.

“It’s just a risk that I don’t think we need to take,” Walker said.

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