Speaker of the House Sara Gideon, right, chats before Gov. Janet Mills' State of the State address in Augusta on Jan. 21.

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AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Legislature will close galleries where the public can watch floor sessions and end tours amid concerns about the coronavirus, but lawmakers will continue to meet and the State House will remain open, legislative leaders announced on Thursday.

Those steps come on the same day that Gov. Janet Mills announced the first presumptive case of the virus in Maine. There were 938 U.S. cases as of Wednesday, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with 29 deaths. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a pandemic on Wednesday.

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House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, announced the precautionary measures from the floor on Thursday afternoon. They include closing galleries where members of the public can view floor sessions. Members of the public will be allowed in floor-level viewing areas. Online live streams will be maintained so the public can watch floor sessions. Gideon said leaders will take other steps for “expediting” work.

The precautionary measures were planned before Mills announced the first positive coronavirus test in Maine, but they were not fully in place during the Legislature’s session Thursday, when state capitol tours and other events proceeded as normal.

The State House will remain open and the Legislature plans to operate through its scheduled adjournment on April 15, though public tours will be canceled, student pages will be barred from the chambers and events will be canceled in the Hall of Flags, a popular spot for press conferences and other gatherings just outside Mills’ second-floor office suite.

The precautions came just after Congress shut down Capitol Hill office buildings to the public until April. The Illinois General Assembly canceled work this week, with the Senate president there citing a need to practice “social distancing,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...