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House reinstates masks requirements as delta variant surges nationwide

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, joined by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, tour the Pentagon Wednesday, Feb. 10. 2021, in Arlington, Virginia. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
July 28, 2021

 The Office of the Attending Physician released new guidance Tuesday night requiring House members and their staff to start wearing masks again in “indoor spaces.”

The guidance comes hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed course and urged even fully vaccinated Americans to wear masks indoors in areas of high COVID-19 transmission.

The House had dropped the previous mask requirement in mid-June, as more members and staffers became vaccinated.

The Senate never required masks, but some members and staffers wear them.

The new guidance issued Tuesday says that “For all House Office Buildings, the Hall of the House, & House Committee Meetings, wearing of a well-fitted, medical grade, filtration face mask is required when an individual is in an interior space & other individuals are present.”

Last week, news shook Capitol Hill and the White House when an administration official and an aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tested positive for the coronavirus after attending an event together.

Additionally, Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., tested positive, as well as several members of the Texas statehouse Democratic delegation who have been spending time in D.C.

The White House official, Buchanan, the Texas Democrats and the Pelosi staffer who tested positive were all reportedly fully vaccinated. Pelosi’s office said the aide tested positive after meeting with a group of Texas Democrats who came to Washington last week.

COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective, but a small percentage of people who are fully vaccinated can still get COVID-19 if exposed to the virus that causes it, according to the CDC.

The guidance Tuesday also reiterated that “Failure to wear a mask in the Hall of the House is subject to fines imposed for violation as contained in the previous House rule.”

COVID-19 protocols — especially wearing masks or face coverings on the House floor — became a particularly contentious issue over the last year.

House Democrats imposed a rule in January regarding the previous guidance that said members would be fined $500 on a first offense and $2,500 for a second offense if they did not wear a mask on the House floor.

As previous guidance, no such guidance has been issued in the Senate.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said new data shows the delta variant, which accounts for more than 80% of the new infections in the U.S., behaves “uniquely differently” from its predecessors and could make vaccinated people infectious.

Health officials say the nation’s lagging vaccine rates are creating a spiraling public health crisis as the unvaccinated rapidly get sick and the protective power of vaccines is given a “stress test.”

COVID-19 cases have increased about 171% in the past few weeks.

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(c) 2021 USA Today

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