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Medill News Service: No masks required at Biden’s State of the Union, removing possible source of conflict with some Republicans


WASHINGTON — Officials on Capitol Hill have lifted a requirement that masks be worn on the House floor, eliminating what could have been a point of contention with some Republican lawmakers at Tuesday’s State of the Union speech.

The now-rescinded mask mandate was setting the stage for potential conflicts during Tuesday’s address given that some members of Congress, such as Georgia GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Andrew Clyde, have flouted mask mandates and racked up fines. The requirement has ended following a memo Sunday from the U.S. Capitol’s attending physician, Dr. Brian Monahan.

“Individuals may choose to mask at any time, but it is no longer a requirement,” Monahan said in the memo.

Monahan cited new metrics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Friday, which show that more than 70% of the nation has low to medium levels of COVID-19 community transmission, including the Washington, D.C., area. The Capitol testing site, in particular, has seen a 2.7% percent positivity rate over the past two weeks, Monahan said.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi sets COVID guidelines for the House floor, the site of the State of the Union speech President Joe Biden will deliver Tuesday, but the California Democrat in large part has relied on Monahan’s views. The reversal comes as a mask mandate for Washington, D.C., is due to end Tuesday, following an announcement by Mayor Muriel Bowser on Feb. 14.

A spokesperson from Clyde’s office said Friday that the congressman had not decided whether he would attend the State of the Union address. Greene’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment on her plans for the speech.

Monahan’s announcement reversed earlier guidance from House Sergeant-at-Arms William Walker, which invited members of Congress to attend the event in person on the condition they wear N95 or KN95 masks. All other components of Walker’s initial guidelines, which he communicated in a Feb. 17 memo, remain in effect, including that members must test negative for COVID within one day of the address. The memo also states that being vaccinated against COVID and receiving a booster shot is “strongly recommended at least two weeks prior to the event.”

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