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Mask-wearing guidance relaxed on House side of the Capitol

Attending physician's guidance follows the lifting of the mask requirements for fully vaccinated people at the White House

Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., right, and Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., are seen in the Capitol Visitor Center on Wednesday.
Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., right, and Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., are seen in the Capitol Visitor Center on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Vaccinated people can resume pre-pandemic activities without a mask or staying six feet apart in most areas on the House side of the Capitol, according to new guidelines from the Office of the Attending Physician. 

Attending Physician Brian P. Monahan announced the changes Thursday evening in a “Dear Colleague” letter hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said vaccinated Americans can mostly lose the mask inside and outside without worry of getting COVID-19. The guidance followed the lifting of the mask requirements for fully vaccinated individuals at the White House.

“Recovery from natural infection is not equivalent to completion of a vaccination,” the OAP said. “Individuals who are not fully vaccinated or with medical conditions elevating their risk of infection, should continue to comply with mask wear and social distancing guidelines.”

The present mask requirements on the House floor “remain unchanged until all Members and floor staff are fully vaccinated,“ the memo said. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said most recently that she believes about 75 percent of lawmakers in the House have been vaccinated. She told reporters that more Republicans need to get vaccinated if they want shorter voting times and a return to pre-pandemic floor operations. 

Members may be fined for not wearing a mask on the House floor, and the chamber’s sergeant-at-arms will likely still enforce the mask rule. 

While mask guidance has been relaxed, it will likely be the decisions of members on whether to bring remote staffs back to the Hill. Some have expressed concerns about crowding their offices with staffers while Americans are still getting sick and dying from the virus.

It’s not clear whether the Senate will offer any formal guidance on mask-wearing. Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s office did not respond to a request for comment. 

It’s been over 100 days since a member of Congress announced a positive test for COVID-19, and some members and staffers have been pulling down masks to chat or not wearing them at all for a while. 

Some Republican senators began already following the new guidance within hours of the CDC announcement. Regular mask-wearers Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Tim Scott, R-S.C., all walked to afternoon votes sans masks.

The  OAP guidance mirrored CDC guidance, still encouraging people to practice good hygiene and wear a mask when traveling on public transportation like trains and airplanes and being in stations and airports. 

Those traveling in the U.S. don’t need to get tested or self-quarantine before or after travel, the OAP said, but international travelers still should follow CDC guidance. 

The OAP also said those with a valid congressional agency identification card who haven’t gotten their vaccines can call 202-225-VAXX (8299) to schedule a time to get a shot. Day-of appointments are often available, the OAP memo said.

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