Facial coverings will no longer be necessary on the US House floor for those fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
House members, staff and visitors can go maskless in interior spaces if they have been fully vaccinated, according to updated guidance sent out Friday from Congress’ attending physician, Dr. Brian Monahan.
Individuals who aren’t fully vaccinated will still be required to wear a mask and socially distance.
The decrease of community transmission and the increase in the rate of vaccinations led to this announcement, a senior Democratic aide told CNN, with the Capitol Hill complex now at an 85% vaccination rate.
According to a CNN survey from May, 100% of congressional Democrats and 92% of Senate Republicans had been vaccinated against Covid-19, while only 44.8% of House Republicans were.
During the height of the pandemic last year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi mandated that all members and aides wear masks in the halls of the House except when they are speaking, after a House GOP member tested positive for Covid-19.
While the Senate chose not to implement any mask requirements, the House’s mask rules became a growing flashpoint among its members.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance on May 13 so that fully vaccinated Americans do not need to wear masks or practice social distancing indoors or outdoors, except under certain circumstances.
Despite the updated CDC guidance, Monahan informed members that same day that masks still had to be worn on the House floor. Pelosi said then that the chamber would keep its mask rules in place until more members of Congress were vaccinated.
That led a handful of Republican lawmakers to purposely flout the House mask rules, resulting in them getting slapped with a mix of fines and warnings for their defiance. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also tried unsuccessfully to lift the mandate.
But even well before the CDC had updated its guidance, some House Republicans refused to wear masks last year, arguing that they are uncomfortable, hard to talk in or, as Louisiana Rep. Clay Higgins told CNN, wearing masks is “part of the dehumanization of the children of God.”