Just three days after Congress's top doctor said vaccinated members would no longer be required to wear masks in committee hearings, the doctor reversed his decision, sparking concerns that politics is being prioritized over science.
On Thursday, Dr. Brian P. Monahan, the attending physician for Congress, issued guidances relaxing indoor mask mandates for fully vaccinated lawmakers in accordance with CDC guidelines. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said on Friday she would keep the mask mandate in place in the face of the guidance from Monahan and the CDC. In a letter issued late Monday, Monahan realigned the guidance with Pelosi's policy, stating that indoor mask mandates would remain in place for both the House floor and committee hearing spaces.
Rep. Mark Green (R., Tenn.), a retired physician, raised the issue during a committee hearing Tuesday morning. He asked about the physician's reversal days after Pelosi pushed to keep the mask mandate in place.
"Will this committee base its decision on the wearing of the mask in the committee on the science or on the policy being pushed from the leadership of the House?" Green asked. "I'd like to make a recommendation that we ask Dr. Monahan what caused him to change his opinion four days after he said it was OK."
In a "Dear Colleague" letter issued Thursday, Dr. Monahan stated that fully vaccinated individuals can take off their masks in most indoor and outdoor areas of the Capitol and return to pre-pandemic activities. The revised guidelines came after the CDC and the White House lifted their indoor mask mandates for fully vaccinated people. Monahan's guidelines largely aligned with the CDC's guidance.
But Pelosi contradicted the guidance on the same day, telling reporters she would keep the mask mandate in place until all lawmakers are fully vaccinated. She also said she would extend proxy voting through the beginning of July.
Green said Dr. Monahan appeared to change his guidance Monday after Pelosi's comments that she would not lift the mask mandate.
"The CDC made the announcement that if vaccinated, a mask isn't needed indoors. I also noted that Dr. Monahan's initial response was that they wouldn't be required in committee," Green said. "Yet only a few days after that, and I don't know what made him change his medical advice, but he has now said that if we're not speaking we have to have a mask on in committee."