Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday announced that face masks would be mandatory on the House floor. The announcement came just hours after Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, who frequented the chamber but often refused to wear a mask, tested positive for the coronavirus. At this time, the Senate has not issued a similar mandate.
Speaking from the House floor, Pelosi said that, "members and staff will be required to wear masks at all times in the hall of the House except that members may remove their masks temporarily when recognized," according to CBS News. Saying that failing to do so would be a "serious breach of decorum," she went on to explain how members and aides who refuse to obey the new mandate will not be permitted to enter the House Chamber and risk removal by the Sergeant at Arms.
Shortly after, the House sergeant-at-arms issued an additional set of rules "upon the direction of the Speaker of the House." According to these new rules, and as reported by CNN, the mandate will be effective beginning at 8 a.m. ET Thursday, though there are a number of exceptions. Those who are eating or drinking or giving a speech or an interview will not be required to wear a mask, provided no one is within 6 feet. A memo announcing the policy also explained that "any person not wearing a face cover will be asked to put on a face cover or leave the building."
The new mandate came after Pelosi, just last month, moved to require lawmakers to wear masks during committee proceedings and after a number of lawmakers expressed concern after Gohmert tested positive for the virus. The Texas Republican was scheduled to board Air Force One to fly to Texas with President Trump on Wednesday, though he tested positive for the virus during a pre-screening at the White House. In an interview with NBC affiliate KETK-TV, Gohmert, who said that he was asymptomatic, suggested that he could have contracted the virus from wearing a mask on the few occasions that he did.
"I can't help but wonder if my keeping a mask on and keeping it in place, that if I might have put some germs or some of the virus onto the mask and breathed it in — I don't know," he told the outlet, according to The Hill. "But I got it, we'll see what happens from here, but the reports of my demise are very premature."
Although a controversial topic, masks and face coverings have long been recommended amid the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all people wear cloth face coverings when in public and in places where "social distancing measures are difficult to maintain," such as grocery stores and pharmacies. The coverings, the CDC says, help "to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others."