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Washington talk turns to masking

House members, floor staff required to wear masks until all are vaccinated

WASHINGTON — Jill Biden says finally going mask-free feels like “we’re moving forward.” A Republican senator says going unmasked “certainly helps the flow of conversation.”

But the conversation on the House floor on Friday approached sniping as lawmakers objected to being required to keep masking up until all 435 of them get their COVID-19 shots.

Across Washington, the government is adjusting to new federal guidance easing up on when masks should be worn.

“So much for following the science,” Rep. Greg Murphy, R-N.C., a urologist, said after complaining that he’d have to put his mask back on after his House floor speech despite being fully vaccinated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that fully vaccinated people — those who are two weeks past their last required dose of a COVID-19 vaccine — can stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings. Partially vaccinated or unvaccinated people should keep wearing masks, the guidance says.

But on Capitol Hill, lawmakers have to keep wearing masks on the House floor, according to a memo from the Office of the Attending Physician, Dr. Brian Monahan.

“The present mask requirement and other guidelines remain unchanged until all Members and Floor staff are fully vaccinated,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a memo to her Democratic colleagues. “Returning the Capitol to the welcoming and safe venue that it has been requires us to not only secure it physically but to make it safe from the virus.”

Recent surveys suggest that about 1 in 4 House lawmakers are not fully vaccinated.

Lawmakers can remove their masks while on the House floor to make speeches, but must mask up after they finish. They are, however, free to resume “pre-pandemic activities” elsewhere in the House complex of office buildings and public spaces.

In the Senate, Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Joni Ernst of Iowa were among senators who didn’t hesitate to remove their masks as soon as they heard the news.

Reporters caught up with President Joe Biden as he made an unannounced appearance on the White House driveway to pose for photos with a departing staff member. Asked if he was enjoying his first workday without a mask, Biden replied “yes” as he reentered the West Wing.

For the first time in about a year, reporters went barefaced as they questioned White House press secretary Jen Psaki at the daily briefing.

After the CDC guidance went out, Psaki said, staff were immediately notified by email that they could stop wearing masks, including in meetings with Biden. Psaki said it may take a few days to put the new guidelines in place across government.

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