Capitol's mask mandate being lifted in time for State of the Union

Washington Updated: Feb 28, 2022, 03:48 PM(IST)

The Capitol at dusk in Washington (file photo) (Al Drago/The New York Times). Photograph:( The New York Times )

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The House of Representatives is lifting the House floor mask mandate in time for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, March 1, ending a requirement that had allowed some Republicans to express their defiance, but at a personal cost

The U.S. House of Representatives is lifting the House floor mask mandate in time for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday, ending a requirement that had allowed some Republicans to express their defiance, but at a personal cost.

Congress’ attending physician, Brian Monahan, delivered the news Sunday, saying coronavirus cases had dropped so much in Washington, D.C., that mask wearing should become optional, not mandatory.

“People with symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 should wear a properly fitted, high-quality filtration mask,” Monahan said, but even that was advisory.

It was yet another mask mandate being lifted, as others are being eliminated in states and cities across the country.

For months now, compliance with the mandate in the Capitol complex has been spotty and partisan. But on the House floor, the House sergeant-at-arms has diligently enforced the mask mandate and reported scofflaws to the House Ethics Committee. It has levied fine after fine, especially on Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Andrew Clyde, both Republicans of Georgia, who racked up more than $100,000 combined in fines while declaring the mandate authoritarian.

Compliance on the Senate side of the Capitol was far looser, with no real consequences to ignoring the mandate.

The date for the president’s State of the Union address is later this year than is traditional — it will be the first to be delivered in March. And, unlike last year’s event, it will be open to all members of Congress, who will be required to produce a negative coronavirus test before entering the chamber for the president’s annual message.

Last year, Biden spoke to a socially distanced audience of fewer than 200 officials, a small fraction of the packed crowd of lawmakers that is typically present for the speech. Those who were allowed to attend were instructed to wear masks, and they sat with several empty seats separating them from other audience members.

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