Republicans in the U.S. Congress lashed out at health officials’ recommendations that even fully vaccinated people resume wearing masks in many places, including the Capitol, as the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 spreads through the nation.
The attending physician for the Capitol followed a similar move by the White House after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new mask recommendations intended to stem the spread of the new variant.
“Mask and vaccine mandates: Bullying, Controlling, Unconstitutional, Threats to Liberty!” Republican Representative Jody Hice of Georgia tweeted on Wednesday morning.
Masks have become a political flashpoint during the pandemic, with Republicans arguing that public health officials’ advice that masks could slow the spread of COVID-19 infringed on individual liberties.
Some 57.6% of Americans have so far received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, with the lowest rates across the heavily Republican Southeast. Four of the five states with the lowest vaccination rates in the United States have Republican governors: Mississippi, Idaho, Wyoming and Alaska, according to a Reuters COVID tracker. The governor of the fifth state, Louisiana, is a Democrat.
The top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell, is rolling out a campaign ad in his home state of Kentucky aiming to counter what he called “bad advice” prompting some Americans to opt not to get vaccinated.
The Capitol physician urged members of Congress to resume wearing masks in public spaces.
“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 … when they are in an interior space,” Dr. Brian Monahan said in a memo late Tuesday.
The rule applies to all House of Representatives office buildings, in the hall of the House and in committee meetings, he said.
Even before the recommendation, many congressional Democrats had resumed wearing masks in the Capitol this week.