As the novel coronavirus outbreak has spread around the world and into the United States, governments, private organizations and other institutions have been taking precautions to stymie the spread of the disease.
At least 90 major universities are moving to all online classes or closing. Local districts are canceling school. The NBA has put its season on hold. And New York has set up a containment zone with a one-mile radius in New Rochelle, which has been a hotspot for coronavirus cases. In one of the most striking moves to prevent the spread of the coronavirus yet, the NCAA announced Wednesday that it would hold its annual March Madness basketball tournament — which produces the vast majority of its yearly revenue — without any fans in attendance.
The federal government has also taken precautions against the coronavirus. Here are some of the ways the U.S. government has been affected as it takes measures to protect its own employees from the respiratory disease.
Capitol closed, tours suspended
The White House, the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol have suspended tours as the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. continues to increase.
While the White House did not mention the coronavirus in its announcement that all tours of the building that serves as both the president’s residence and office are temporarily suspended, the House and Senate Sergeants at Arms issued a joint memo informing members that it was shutting down all tours, “including Member and staff-led tours,” beginning Thursday evening.
It has also closed the building to all members of the public except “members, staff and official business visitors.”
“In consultation with the Office of Attending Physician and Leadership, effective at 5:00 p.m. on March 12, 2020, the House and Senate Sergeant at Arms have ordered limited access,” the memo reads. “This limited access is anticipated to remain in effect until 8:00 a.m. April 1, 2020, and is to protect the health and safety of Members, staff and visitors.”
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) became the first major federal agency earlier this week to ask its staff to telecommute after an employee received treatment for respiratory symptoms.
Then, later in the week, multiple members of Congress began closing their D.C. offices, led by Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., and followed shortly thereafter by Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
“The Wuhan coronavirus is a grave challenge to our great nation. My first priority is always the safety of our people,” Cotton said in a statement. “From the beginning, I have heeded the counsel of Benjamin Franklin: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement Thursday that he “fully support[s] the decision of these nonpartisan officers,” while House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., called on Congress to stay in session until it passes a second coronavirus funding bill that both Republicans and Democrats are comfortable with.
There is an upcoming district work period for members next week that may be put on hold while Congress hashes out its difference on coronavirus legislation.
Members of Congress in self-quarantine
While no members of Congress have tested positive for the coronavirus yet, several members have self-quarantined after they learned that they had been exposed to an infected person. This heavily affected Republican members who attended the CPAC conference two weeks ago, where one person who attended was later revealed to have been infected.
Among those members who temporarily cut themselves off from interactions with their staffs, colleagues and the public are Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., Rep Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., and Cruz.
Gaetz, who had come into contact with President Trump before he found out he had been in contact with the infected person at CPAC, tested negative for the coronavirus.
Brownley also self-quarantined after she learned that she’d come into contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus. Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Texas, learned that he’d come into contact with an infected person but was cleared to return to Washington.
Incoming Trump chief of staff, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., also self-quarantined himself earlier this week after learning he came into contact with the infected person at CPAC.
News broke Thursday afternoon that Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., also self-quarantined after meeting with a member of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s delegation who later tested positive for the coronavirus.
“The [Brazilian] Embassy said the person had no symptoms leading up to or the day of the conference,” Scott said in a press release. “After consulting with the Senate’s attending physician and my personal doctor, I have been told that my risk is low, and I don’t need to take a test or quarantine. However, the health and safety of the American people is my focus and I have made the decision to self-quarantine in an abundance of caution. I am feeling healthy and not experiencing any symptoms at this time.”
Before a wave of office closings later in the week, some senior congressional staffers were stressing over how to protect their members from the coronavirus as congressional leaders seemed reluctant to interrupt business as usual in the Capitol Building. Democrats and Republicans are currently hashing out a second spending bill dedicated to fighting the coronavirus.
An internal memo written by a congressional chief of staff obtained by Fox News Wednesday showed at least one office was taking expansive measures to protect its member, who is a senior citizen.
The memo, which redacts the member’s name, emphasizes in bold: “That said — it is absolutely imperative that we limit [redacted]’s’ (and our own) physical contact as much as possible during the coming weeks — no handshakes, no hugs, no kissing, keeping appropriate distance from others, etc. [Redacted] should also not be touching people for photo ops. As staff — we are the first line of defense for [redacted]. That is why I am imploring every staffer who is with [redacted] at events to encourage responsible distancing — for [redacted] protection and yours.”
State and DOD travel restrictions
Both the Department of Defense and the U.S. State Department are restricting travel for employees in the wake of President Trump’s announcement Wednesday night that the U.S. would ban travel from Europe to the United States.
In a Wednesday night press release, the DOD said it will prohibit any travel by service members to “Level 3” countries as assigned by the CDC and prevent family members of those in the military and civilian military personnel from traveling to “Level 2” countries. It also requires DOD personnel who are returning to the U.S. from “Level 2” or “Level 3” countries to remain in their homes for 14 days to monitor for any coronavirus symptoms.
“Level 3” countries include China, Iran, South Korea, Italy and the continent of Europe. There is also a “Level 3” restriction to Venezuela, not because of the coronavirus but because of the lack of health infrastructure in the socialist country. On Wednesday night, the CDC also issued a global “Level 2” alert due to the worldwide spread of the coronavirus, which on Wednesday was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.
Reuters also reported Wednesday night that the State Department was suspending all non-essential travel for its staffers, citing anonymous sources.
Fox News’ NaNa Sajaia, Edmund DeMarche, Lucas Tomlinson, Jason Donner, Chad Pergram, Matt Leach and the Associated Press contributed to this report.