The United States Capitol and White House both have reduced mask mandates imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The policy change comes just before President Joe Biden is set to deliver his State of the Union address.
On Feb. 27, Congress’s Office of the Attending Physician announced lawmakers would not be required to wear masks while inside the House chamber.
“Individuals may choose to mask at any time, but it is no longer a requirement,” said Capitol physician Brian Monahan via a memo.
Masks are also now optional on Capitol grounds.
Two weeks earlier, the Capitol physician and the House Sergeant-at-Arms William Walker had said all 535 members of Congress would be required to wear a mask at the address. The Washington D.C. indoor mask mandate expired on Feb. 28.
“The House is also implementing a requirement for attendees to obtain a negative test result on Feb. 28,” reported Roll Call. “The RT-PCR tests will be conducted in the Capitol Visitor Center.”
Walker also recommended a COVID-19 vaccine and booster shot.
The White House announced on Feb. 28 that masks were no longer required for vaccinated people on the premises.
Speaking at a press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed the policy change. She said the timing — just over 24 hours before the State of the Union — was coincidental.
“For him, it had nothing to do with the timing around the State of the Union,” Psaki added. “He wanted to give the CDC the time to assess and make recommendations that would be clear to the American public about what their recommendations would be for mask-wearing moving forward.”
#SOTU: The Washington DC indoor mask mandate will expire tonight, and they will be optional at the State of the Union tomorrow. Jen Psaki says the timing is coincidental, as the President doesn't have the power to make DC a "green zone" for mask wearing. pic.twitter.com/HarkDGxzcZ
— Forbes (@Forbes) February 28, 2022
Unvaccinated people will still be required to get a COVID-19 test, wear masks, and socially distance while at the White House, per Axios.
Only 200 of the over 500 members of Congress attended Biden’s 2021 address to a joint session of Congress because of the strict COVID-19 policies in place at the time, per ABC News.
It is not clear how many members will attend Biden’s address.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas have already announced they do not plan to attend because of the strict coronavirus measures.
“Nancy Pelosi’s COVID theatrics are a joke and Senator Cotton will not be attending,” James Arnold, a spokesman for Cotton, told Breitbart.
Below is the #CovidTheatre rituals required to attend the State of the Union
No thank you, maybe next time pic.twitter.com/Fe0BSthVjk
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) February 18, 2022
Representative Chip Roy of Texas and Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado said they will not attend the State of the Union.
In preparation for the event, the Capitol Police constructed a fence around the Capitol and requested additional support from the Nation Guard.