JEFFERSON CITY — Top Missouri lawmakers are asking people to avoid the Capitol unless they're "directly participating in legislative business" in an effort to keep the building safe from the coronavirus.

In a statement provided to the News-Leader on Tuesday, leaders from both parties said the building would be "highly susceptible" to spreading infection with thousands of people coming in and out from all over the state each week.

To avoid that, lawmakers encouraged guests "who are not directly participating in legislative business to refrain from visiting the Capitol at this time."

They also announced they would take additional precautions to protect the 162 House members who sit close to one another in their chamber by closing the House floor and other spaces to the public.

House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, said the General Assembly is taking the steps "out of an abundance of caution" to minimize the risk of an outbreak.

He continued, “While the General Assembly continues to conduct business as normal, we will closely monitor the situation to take necessary actions to maintain a safe environment that will ensure the health and well-being of all those who work in, and visit, the Capitol.”

Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, added that while most would not be at risk of serious harm, "we need to remain vigilant because populations we may come in contact with, such as the elderly or those with weakened immune systems, are at risk.”

Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader's politics reporter. Got something he should know? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at ahuguelet@news-leader.com. You can also support local journalism at News-Leader.com/subscribe.