Vaccinated lawmakers no longer required to wear masks on House floor

Vaccinated lawmakers no longer required to wear masks on House floor
© Greg Nash

Lawmakers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will no longer be required to wear masks in the House chamber, Democratic leaders announced Friday.

The change reflects updated guidance from the Capitol's attending physician released Friday to only retain the mask requirement for people who aren't fully vaccinated or are "vaccination-indeterminate."

The new guidance means that most House members will no longer need to wear masks while in the House chamber when they return to Washington on Monday, weeks after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first announced that fully vaccinated people can forgo facial coverings in most settings.

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Friday's new guidance from the Capitol physician is a shift from the stance adopted immediately after the CDC announcement last month.

The Capitol physician's office said in a guidance at the time that the House floor mask requirement remaining in place was "entirely consistent" with the CDC recommendations because it is "the only location where the entire Membership gathers periodically throughout the day in an interior space."

The Friday memo from the Capitol physician's office stated that the mask requirement was being modified "in response to considerable rate of vaccination participation and diminishing daily evidence of disease transmission in our community."

A recent CNN survey found that all 219 Democrats in the House confirmed they are vaccinated against COVID-19, compared to only 97 of the 211 Republicans. Many GOP offices did not respond to CNN's survey.

In the days following the CDC announcement last month, several Republican lawmakers staged protests by refusing to wear masks in the House chamber.

At least six Republicans were issued $500 fines for refusing to comply with the mask requirement, including some who have declined to publicly confirm if they are vaccinated.

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Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries On The Money: Biden issues targeted eviction moratorium | GOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal 'The Squad' celebrates Biden eviction moratorium MORE (D-Calif.) first instituted the mask requirement last July in response to dozens of House Republicans refusing to wear masks on the floor and in committees — including one who subsequently tested positive for COVID-19.

The Senate, meanwhile, has never had a formal mask requirement in a chamber where nearly all of its members voluntarily wore facial coverings when recommended and are now vaccinated. CNN's survey found that all but four GOP senators confirmed they are vaccinated.

House Democratic leaders further announced Friday that another health precaution established for the House floor during the pandemic will also be eased. Since last year, each roll call vote has been allotted extra time to allow for social distancing on the House floor and for lawmakers to cast votes by proxy.

Starting next week, each vote will be open for up to 20 minutes. That's down from 30 minutes for each vote when the House was last in session before the Memorial Day recess.