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29 Jul, 2021 01:08

House physician revives mask mandate for Congress, but is seen bare-faced briefing irate GOP reps on new rule

House physician revives mask mandate for Congress, but is seen bare-faced briefing irate GOP reps on new rule

The attending physician at the US Capitol has reimposed a mask mandate for Congress just weeks after lifting it, triggering a backlash in the GOP amid reports the doctor pulled down his mask at a briefing on his own rule.

The masking recommendation was taken up in the House on Wednesday, after Dr. Brian Monahan had issued guidance the night prior that required indoor face coverings for members of Congress as well as anyone in the House’s office buildings, hall, or committee meeting chambers, including the fully vaccinated.

“For the Congress, representing a collection of individuals traveling weekly from various risk areas (both high and low rates of disease transmission), all individuals should wear a well-fitted, medical-grade filtration mask … when they are in an interior space,” he wrote.

To be clear, for meetings in an enclosed US House of Representatives controlled space, masks are REQUIRED.

The mandate lays out exemptions for “when an individual is alone,” addressing lawmakers, or seeking recognition to do so, and, as with the previous rule, failure to comply could result in a fine. The Senate has not yet adopted the same measure. 

While the masking rule was lifted for the fully vaccinated in mid-June on Monahan’s recommendation, he warned lawmakers last week that several vaccinated representatives had tested positive for the coronavirus, noting the fast spread of the more contagious Delta variant. He said at the time that House members might consider masking up, but stopped short of demanding a new mandate. 

Monahan’s memo came on the heels of new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommended on Tuesday that there should be universal indoor masking in “areas with substantial and high transmission.” The health agency issued the new advice less than 24 hours after assuring vaccinated Americans they could resume life as normal.

The CDC’s revised mask advice and the new rule at the Capitol have caused outrage among Republicans and conservative critics, who cried hypocrisy after a photo emerged showing Monahan at a briefing with GOP reps without a face covering. In the image, shared by Sean Davis, co-founder of The Federalist platform, Monahan is seen with his mask pulled down to chin level. It remained that way for “at least 45 minutes,” a source present at the briefing claimed.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) offered scathing criticism of the masking requirement, arguing that it was not supported by science and accusing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of flouting a rule she vocally supports.

“Twice today I saw the speaker in a crowded room without a mask, less than 24 hours after imposing the mask mandate,” he said, later adding. “This is no different than [Pelosi] telling people they couldn’t go out while she’s getting her hair done.”

McCarthy also took aim at the CDC’s ever-shifting advice, saying “First they tell us ‘Don’t wear a mask, wear a mask, wear two masks,’ then to take the masks off.” McCarthy argued that the US Capitol building itself was not a “hot spot” and therefore should be exempt from the rule.  

“The vaccination rate for members of Congress is over 85%, and, as of today, the transmission rate on the Capitol campus is less than 1%. The facts would tell us this isn’t a hot spot so the CDC recommendation doesn’t apply to us,” he said.

The CDC does classify the nation’s capital as an area of “substantial” transmission of Covid-19, however. Such an area is defined as any county with 50 to 100 cases per 100,000 residents in a seven-day period, meaning it would be affected by the new guidelines.

Other Republicans also tore into the new mandate, including Reps. Lauren Boebert (Colorado), Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (Georgia), while Dan Crenshaw of Texas claimed in a lengthy Twitter thread that it was based on faulty science.

The Capitol’s face mask rule has been brought back to life as President Joe Biden considers whether to impose a vaccine requirement on all federal employees, with the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security already moving ahead with similar policies. Though the White House advised federal agencies not to make vaccinations mandatory just last month, it appears to have adopted a new stance in the weeks since, in line with the CDC’s own reconsidered mask recommendation.

Also on rt.com Mask or no mask? Biden covers up to meet Belarus activist, goes bare-faced in Pennsylvania crowd

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