House lifts mask mandate for fully vaccinated lawmakers, staff after more than a year of restrictions

Ledyard King

WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives is allowing fully vaccinated lawmakers and staff to shed their masks on the floor and in committees.

The attending physician of the House issued guidelines Friday that "fully vaccinated individuals may discontinue mask wear and 6-foot social distance separations in most situations consistent with the CDC revision regarding fully vaccinated individuals of May 13, 2021."

The Senate has no mask mandate though a number of senators continue to wear them outside of their offices.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wears  a '51' face mask during a news conference about statehood for the District of Columbia at the U.S. Capitol on April 21.

The change also will mean faster floor votes.

Votes took nearly an hour – or longer – at times as social distance requirements during the pandemic meant lawmakers had to vote in small groups to avoid close contact. Now votes will be closed after 20 minutes and a group system no longer will be implemented, according to the office of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

Proxy voting, where specifically designated members can cast votes on behalf of absent lawmakers, will continue.

Mask-wearing has been a point of contention that's fallen largely along party lines, with Democrats closely hewing to COVID prevention rules and many Republicans openly defying them.

A significant number of Republicans have refused to say whether they've been vaccinated and several have been fined for not wearing masks on the floor.

More:Running list: Which members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19?

The memo from the House attending physician, Brian P. Monahan, says the masking rules should apply both to those who are not fully vaccinated or are "vaccine indeterminate."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidelines last month that people who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear masks, even indoors, except in crowded indoor settings like airplanes, buses and health care facilities. It left the actual rules up to individual organizations and businesses.

That prompted a group of House Republicans to petition House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to drop the mask mandate.

“For all the talk from President Biden, Speaker Pelosi, and the mainstream media telling us to follow the science, political leaders should be setting an example for getting back to normal, not cowering in fear in defiance of common sense," Ohio Republican Bob Gibbs said in a statement last month.