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House floor mask mandate remains in effect after CDC announcement

House floor mask mandate remains in effect after CDC announcement
© Greg Nash

Rules requiring all lawmakers and staff on the House floor to wear masks will remain in place until they are all fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the Capitol physician said in a memo following new guidance Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

But people who are fully vaccinated — or at least two weeks out from their last shot — are free to go maskless in House office buildings and elsewhere in the Capitol, according to the memo.

“The present mask requirement and other guidelines remain unchanged until all members and floor staff are fully vaccinated,” Brian Monahan, the Capitol physician, wrote in the memo.

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The Capitol physician has estimated that about 75 percent of House members are vaccinated. Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: 'No intention' of abandoning Democrats' infrastructure goals Senate investigation of insurrection falls short Ocasio-Cortez: 'Old way of politics' influences Manchin's thinking MORE (D-Calif.) has said the House won’t return to normal pre-pandemic operations until more members are vaccinated.

Until then, masks and socially distanced floor votes lasting 30 minutes each will remain in place.

Republicans, many of whom resisted masks from the beginning, expressed frustration that the mask mandate remains in place despite the new CDC guidance. Nearly three dozen House Republicans urged Pelosi on Friday to lift the House floor mask requirement.

"It is time to update our own workplace regulations," the Republicans wrote in a letter led by Rep. Bob GibbsRobert (Bob) Brian GibbsHouse floor mask mandate remains in effect after CDC announcement READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results Top GOP lawmakers call for Swalwell to be removed from Intelligence Committee MORE (R-Ohio). "The United States Congress must serve as a model to show the country we can resume normal life through vaccination. Let’s follow the science and get back to work."

A CNN survey published Friday found that all congressional Democrats in the House and Senate have been vaccinated, while less than half of House Republicans have publicly acknowledged the same. All but four of the 50 Senate Republicans confirmed they are vaccinated.

House Democrats voted in January to make noncompliance with the floor mask mandate punishable by fine: $500 for the first offense and $2,500 for the second.

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Some Republicans have said they won’t get vaccinated because they already had COVID-19 or tested positive for antibodies, despite CDC guidance that people who were previously infected should still get vaccinated.

“Recovery from natural infection is not equivalent to completion of a vaccination,” Monahan wrote.

Pelosi instituted a mask mandate for the House floor last summer after numerous Republicans refused to wear them, upsetting fellow lawmakers who feared potential exposure to COVID-19.

Earlier this week, Pelosi announced a slight relaxation of the House mask rule: Lawmakers can now remove their masks while recognized to speak on the House floor. The speaking exemption was previously allowed until December amid a nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases.

But no mask mandate exists in the Senate, where most lawmakers and staff have voluntarily followed the CDC guidance to wear masks.

The difference between the two chambers’ approaches to masks was evident on Thursday after the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks indoors or outdoors, except in crowded settings like airplanes.

While most people still wore masks in halls surrounding the House chamber on Thursday afternoon, few were seen wearing them on the Senate side of the Capitol. 

—Updated at 1:37 p.m.