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Capitol physician drops Congress' mask mandate ahead of State of the Union address

By Paul LeBlanc, CNN

Updated: Mon, 28 Feb 2022 01:04:07 GMT

Source: CNN

The US Capitol's attending physician said Sunday that masks will be optional on Capitol Hill starting Monday, just a day before President Joe Biden will deliver his State of the Union address in the House chamber.

Citing new guidance from US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Brian P. Monahan said in a memo that "individuals may choose to mask at any time, but it is no longer a requirement."

The decision brings a shift in health guidance for lawmakers just ahead of Biden's Tuesday address before a full House chamber after last year's socially distanced address to a joint session of Congress. Monahan notes that the Sergeant-at-Arms' previously communicated risk reduction measures remains in effect, except for mask-wearing.

Mask wearing around the US Capitol complex has been subject to fierce debate throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, with some House Republicans racking up considerable fines for repeated violations.

But according to new CDC metrics on Friday, more than 70% of the US population is in a location with low or medium Covid-19 community levels. For those areas, there is no recommendation for indoor masking unless you are at potential "increased risk" for Covid-19 and if so, the CDC recommends to talk to your health care provider about wearing a mask.

"The Washington DC region is now in the 'green level' or low level in this new CDC schema," Monahan noted.

The update to the CDC guidance came as daily Covid-19 cases in the United States fell to a tenth of what they were at their peak last month, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The 90% drop -- from an average of more than 802,000 cases per day on January 15 to fewer than 75,000 -- happened over the course of about six weeks.

"Business processes such as committee hearings and other meetings should revise signage or operating statements to reflect interior space mask wear is optional and not required at this time," Monahan wrote in his memo Sunday.

"Coronavirus circumstances, the COVID19 Community Level, may change to a 'medium or yellow' level where select individuals resume interior mask wear and weekly serial testing while a 'high or orange' level would prompt resumption of the indoor mask wear requirement for all."

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