Congress is lifting its mask requirement on the House floor, making face coverings optional for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday. Federal regulators eased guidelines last week in a rethinking of the nation’s strategy to adapt to living with COVID-19.
Congress’ Office of the Attending Physician announced the policy change Sunday, lifting a requirement that has been in place for much of the past two years on Capitol Hill. The Capitol move also comes just one day before Washington’s mask mandate expires on Monday, and as a host of states and local governments have begun implementing the new CDC guidelines and lifting mask-mandates indoors and in schools.
The nation’s capital is now in an area considered low risk under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new metrics, which place less of a focus on positive test results and more on what’s happening in community hospitals. The new system greatly changes the look of the CDC’s risk map and puts more than 70% of the U.S. population in counties where the coronavirus is posing a low or medium threat to hospitals. Healthy people in those risk areas can stop wearing masks indoors, the agency said.
Mask-wearing will still be a personal choice in Congress and special precautions will be in place for Biden’s speech. Unlike last year’s joint address, this year will be open to all members of Congress. All attendees will be required to take a COVID-19 test before entering the chamber ahead of Biden’s address.
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