The House of Representatives on Sunday lifted its mask mandate, two days before President Joe Biden is scheduled to deliver his State of the Union address.
"Individuals may choose to mask at any time, but it is no longer a requirement," House attending physician Brian Monahan announced in a letter to lawmakers. The letter cited low COVID-19 positivity test rates as the reason for the rule change. Monahan and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) have both issued guidance for masking in areas at the Capitol during the pandemic. They have at times been at odds with each other.
In May 2021, Monahan dropped mask mandates for House committee hearings. Pelosi announced the day after that she would keep masking in place on the House floor, going against Monahan and CDC guidance. Monahan then reversed his decision two days later, keeping mask requirements for both the House floor and committee hearings. The move prompted concerns from lawmakers that both were prioritizing politics over public health.
Under rules of decorum for the lower chamber, Pelosi may order the sergeant at arms to enforce masking for members of Congress. Representatives may be fined $500 if they refuse to wear a mask on the House floor and $2,500 for each time after that.
The CDC eased its masking guidance on Friday for areas with low to medium COVID transmission. Director Rochelle Walensky cautioned, however, that mask mandates may return "should things get worse in the future." The move followed decisions by Democratic governors, such as Phil Murphy (N.J.) and Kathy Hochul (N.Y.), to relax masking guidelines in their states.