Just in time for President Joe Biden's State of the Union address, face masks will no longer be required in the United States Capitol.
What are the details?
Capitol physician Brian Monahan advised Congress in a memo published Sunday that masks will no longer be required at the Capitol complex because of plummeting COVID-19 cases. Monahan cited new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to bolster his decision.
"The Washington DC region is now in the 'green level' or low level in this new CDC schema allowing for reduction in coronavirus prevention measures such as coronavirus testing frequency and indoor mask wear," Monahan said, Axios reported.
"COVID19 layered protection measures such as vaccination emphasis, and daily home health screening inventory prior to coming to work should continue," Monahan explained.
Monahan also reversed instructions from House Sergeant at Arms William Walker that said every member of Congress attending Biden's State of the Union address on March 1 must wear an N95 or KN95 face mask.
"KN95 or N95 mask wear is no longer required and mask wear is now an individual choice option," Monahan said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ultimately controls face mask guidance for the House floor, but she has deferred to Monahan's guidance in the past and will likely do so now, Politico noted. The Senate never adopted mask requirements.
What is the background?
The CDC released updated indoor masking recommendations last week, which now determine the necessity for masking based on COVID-19 positivity rates and hospital admissions in a particular community. The changes mean that more than 70% of Americans can go indoors without a face mask.
The CDC's updated recommendations and Monahan's new guidance come as Democratic leaders nationwide drop pandemic-related mandates.
The swift changes have raised suspicion that midterm polls — and particularly the fact that a majority of polls show Democrats could lose big-time in November — are driving the decisions as opposed to public health considerations, but Democratic leaders say decreasing COVID case numbers and hospital admissions are behind the mandate rescissions.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky also stressed the importance of rolling back mandates now to bolster government credibility should they be deemed necessary in the future.
"None of us knows what the future may hold for us and for this virus," Walensky said Friday. "We need to be prepared and ready for whatever comes next. We want to give people a break from things like mask-wearing, when levels are low, and then have the ability to reach for them again, should things get worse in the future."