By Veronica Stracqualursi and Annie Grayer, CNN
The US House is reinstating its mask mandate as the Delta variant emerges as the dominant strain of Covid across the country and in light of the new US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, the House attending physician announced Tuesday.
The House’s reinstatement of the mask mandate follows the CDC’s new recommendation Tuesday that both vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans in areas with “high” or “substantial” Covid-19 transmission should resume wearing masks indoors.
“For all House Office Buildings, the Hall of the House, and House Committee Meetings, wearing of a well-fitted, medical grade, filtration face mask is required when an individual is in an interior space and other individuals are present,” Dr. Brian Monahan wrote in a memo.
House lawmakers and their staff will be required to wear face coverings while in the House chamber, except when members are being recognized and speaking on the floor.
Lawmakers will not be allowed to enter the House chamber without a mask and those who fail to wear a mask in the House chamber will be subject to fines.
Face coverings are also required for meetings in an “enclosed” House “controlled space.”
Masks will be made available at entryways to the House chamber and provided at committee meetings for those who need one.
“For the Congress, representing a collection of individuals traveling weekly from various risk areas (both high and low rates of disease transmission), all individuals should wear a well-fitted, medical-grade filtration mask (for example an ear loop surgical mask or a KN95 mask) when they are in an interior space,” Monahan wrote.
The masks rules in the House — and across the country — have become a political flashpoint and already the House’s top Republican, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, pushed back on Tuesday’s directive, in a sign of potential further clashes.
When asked Wednesday about McCarthy’s criticism of the reinstatement of the mask mandate, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “He’s such a moron.”
It was just last month that the US House dropped its mask mandate for those who are fully vaccinated, prompted by the decrease of community transmission and the increase in the rate of vaccinations, a senior Democratic aide had told CNN at the time.
But last week, Monahan had warned Congress about the Delta variant while noting that “several vaccinated Congressional staff members” had tested positive for coronavirus.
Pelosi’s office confirmed that same day that a fully vaccinated senior spokesperson in the speaker’s press office tested positive after coming into contact with a group of Texas state Democrats who traveled to Washington, DC, to block restrictive voting legislation. At least six of those Texas lawmakers who say they’re fully vaccinated tested positive for Covid.
So-called breakthrough cases of Covid are rare in fully vaccinated individuals and getting vaccinated remains the best way to protect against hospitalization and death; 99.5% of deaths from Covid are among the unvaccinated, according to the CDC.
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CNN’s Jessica Dean and Daniella Diaz contributed to this report.