WASHINGTON (AP) — Face coverings are now optional for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday, as Congress is lifting its mask requirement on the House floor after federal regulators eased guidelines last week in a rethinking of the nation’s strategy to adapt to living with a more manageable COVID-19.
Congress’ Office of the Attending Physician announced the policy change Sunday, lifting a requirement that has been in place for much of the past two years and had become a partisan flashpoint on Capitol Hill. The change ahead of the speech will avoid a potential disruptive display of national tensions and frustration as Biden tries to nudge the country to move beyond the pandemic.
The nation’s capital is now in an area considered low risk under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new metrics, which place less of a focus on positive test results and more on what’s happening in community hospitals. The new system greatly changes the look of the CDC’s risk map and puts more than 70% of the U.S. population in counties where the coronavirus is posing a low or medium threat to hospitals. Healthy people in those risk areas can stop wearing masks indoors, the agency said.