Keeping A Social Distance During Coronavirus: White House And Capitol Hill Reporters Advised To Take New Precautions At Briefings, Press Scrums

White House briefing room
Photo by SHAWN THEW/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (10584425h) Signs on every other seat in the briefing room call for the seat to remain empty to ensure social distancing during press conferences at the White House.

UPDATED: The press corps that gathers for White House briefings on the coronavirus looks a little different: Reporters are now being spaced out with every other seat being occupied.

The White House Correspondents’ Association designed a new seating chart for reporters in order to practice social distancing. Already in the past couple of days, reporters’  temperatures are being checked before being allowed in the room to cover briefings with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

The White House briefing room is much tinier than it looks on TV, and reporters in the past have squeezed into the space to cover press conferences and announcements. Even when nothing is going on in the room, journalists and photographers fan out on seats, while news outlets cram into tight cubicle space.

Later on Monday, the White House issued temporary restrictions on access to the grounds, limiting it only to reporters who have assigned seats in the briefing room and to those who are part of the regular pool. All members of the press who do enter will have to go through temperature readings before being granted access.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, reporters are being advised to try to avoid large “press scrums” around lawmakers. “No new restrictions have been put in place regarding interviews and reporting in the halls of the House or Senate. However, leadership has expressed concerns about the nature of ‘walk-and-talks’ and large scrums with lawmakers, because of the close quarters involved that can allow easier spread of serious illnesses,” according to a note sent to reporters by the Standing Committee of Correspondents, the organization that oversees the press galleries.

They are asking that reporters “balance reporter safety with newsgathering needs,” being mindful of how close they are to lawmakers and staff and with each other while conducting interviews.

The Capitol is closed to visitors, but those restrictions do not apply to lawmakers, their staffs and the media.

No restrictions are being placed on the number of reporters allowed to enter the Capitol, but the Standing Committee is asking outlets to be mindful of how many employees are needed in the press galleries and what work can be done remotely.

The coming weeks are expected to be busy at the Capitol. The Senate this week is expected to vote on a coronavirus relief package, and lawmakers then are expected to turn their attention to another piece of legislation to address the economic fallout from the mass closures due to the virus.


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