WASHINGTON (AP) — Fully vaccinated members of Congress and staffers will no longer have to wear masks on the House floor and in committee rooms, the Office of the Attending Physician said Friday, delighting some GOP lawmakers who have been chafing at the mask-wearing requirements.
The new protocol came nearly a month after vaccinated Americans were told they could ditch their masks, and just days before House lawmakers were set to return to Washington following three weeks in their home districts. Before they left, some Republicans invited fines by not wearing a mask on the House floor.
One of those lawmakers, Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., tweeted Friday in a dig at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “PELOSI CAVES. FREEDOM PREVAILS.”
Another, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, tweeted: “Excellent news! I have been urging the House to lead by example and all fully vaccinated Members to go without masks since April. Great to see the House is FINALLY listening to the science.”
Both of the GOP lawmakers had been fined $500 last month for failing to wear a mask on the House floor. Democrats said they were hoping to ditch their masks, too, but wanted their GOP colleagues to get vaccinated first.
Friction over the House’s mask-wearing requirements increased after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines last month, saying it’s safe for fully vaccinated people to skip face coverings and social distancing in virtually all situations.
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., sought to get the Office of the Attending Physician to update its guidance for mask wearing, but Democrats defeated it along a party-line vote of 218-210. The physician's office is the medical unit of Congress.
Dr. Brian P. Monahan, head of the medical office, said in Friday's memo that the relaxed requirements for those who have been vaccinated stem from a “continuous reduction of coronavirus community spread.” He also said that face coverings would still be required for those who are not fully vaccinated and for “vaccination-indeterminate individuals.”
He noted that about 43% of Americans are fully vaccinated and 52% have received at least one dose. “Congressional community vaccination rates are generally much higher but vary between Offices and Agencies,” he wrote.
There is no requirement for wearing masks in the Senate chamber.