House to resume mask mandate after new CDC guidance

House to resume mask mandate after new CDC guidance
© Greg Nash

Masks will once again be universally required on the House side of the Capitol amid the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 delta variant, the Capitol physician announced late Tuesday night.

The resumption of the House mask mandate — just over a month after it was lifted — comes after new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier Tuesday recommending that vaccinated people should wear masks in high-risk areas.

"To be clear, for meetings in an enclosed US House of Representatives controlled space, masks are REQUIRED," a memo from the Capitol physician, Brian Monahan, states.

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Monahan said that masks are justified given that members of Congress hail from all over the country, where some areas — primarily conservative-leaning — are seeing a surge in COVID-19 amid low vaccination rates.

"For the Congress, representing a collection of individuals traveling weekly from various risk areas (both high and low rates of disease transmission), all individuals should wear a well-fitted, medical-grade filtration mask (for example an ear loop surgical mask or a KN95 mask) when they are in an interior space," Monahan wrote.

Most people in the Capitol were largely forgoing masks in recent weeks after the Capitol physician announced last month that they were no longer required for people vaccinated against COVID-19.

But many lawmakers and staffers began wearing masks voluntarily again last week following news that Rep. Vern BuchananVernon Gale BuchananMORE (R-Fla.), a staffer for Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats seek to cool simmering tensions Louisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid House Democrats unveil legislation to curtail presidential power MORE (D-Calif.) and a White House official all tested positive for COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated.

The return of the House mask mandate drew swift outcry from Republicans, many of whom have resisted wearing facial coverings from the start of the pandemic.

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"Make no mistake — The threat of bringing masks back is not a decision based on science, but a decision conjured up by liberal government officials who want to continue to live in a perpetual pandemic state," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyWoodward: Milley was 'setting in motion sensible precautions' with calls to China Thompson says he hopes Jan 6. committee can complete work by 'early spring' Juan Williams: Shame on the anti-mandate Republicans MORE (R-Calif.) tweeted Tuesday night.

Lawmakers face hefty fines if they don't comply with the House floor mask mandate. Six Republicans were issued $500 fines in May for refusing to wear masks before the Capitol physician ultimately lifted the requirement.

The mask requirement will not apply to the Senate. But it's a different COVID-19 risk environment in the upper chamber, where all but four senators have confirmed publicly that they are vaccinated in a recent CNN survey. All but a handful of senators also complied with mask recommendations throughout the pandemic, compared to numerous House Republicans who refused to voluntarily wear masks before the mandate went into effect a year ago.

All Democrats in the House and Senate have confirmed they are vaccinated. But nearly half of House Republicans still won't reveal their vaccination status.

House Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseHouse passes bill to prevent shutdown and suspend debt limit Democrats to nix B for Israel's Iron Dome from bill to avert shutdown Louisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid MORE (R-La.) revealed last week that he only just received his first vaccine shot, in contrast to McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling Franken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour Woodward: Milley was 'setting in motion sensible precautions' with calls to China MORE (R-Ky.) getting their vaccines as soon as members of Congress were eligible in December and publicly urging others to do the same.