Press Releases

National Capital Region Delegation Urges House Leaders To Issue Mask Directive To Members Of Congress

Members of Congress representing the National Capital Region today wrote to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy urging them to “issue strong, explicit directives to Members of the House regarding proper face coverings” as Congress prepares to cast votes next week.

The letter, led by Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) and signed by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and Reps. Anthony Brown (D-MD), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), and David Trone (D-MD), noted that refusal by some of their colleagues to wear face coverings “endangers our constituents who work in their proximity, some of whom have contacted us to say they are not comfortable working on Capitol Hill around Members of Congress who do not prioritize their safety.”

They wrote:

“We represent the residents of the National Capital Region, including those who live or work on Capitol Hill. To date, over 2,700 people living in the region have died from COVID-19, and tens of thousands have tested positive.  That figure includes Capitol Police officers, construction workers involved in projects at congressional office buildings, congressional staff, and Members of Congress. It is abundantly clear that no one is immune to the deadly effects of this virus.

“Given the toll this pandemic has taken on residents of Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area, we are dismayed by the reluctance of many of our colleagues serving in the House to take necessary precautions to protect those around them.  We have personally observed Members of the House refusing to engage in social distancing or wear face coverings, and mocking those who do. We have read accounts and interviews with colleagues in which they defend their refusal to wear masks.  Such conduct misses an opportunity which all of us as leaders should embrace – to model good, responsible behavior. Worse, it directly endangers our constituents who work in their proximity, some of whom have contacted us to say they are not comfortable working on Capitol Hill around Members of Congress who do not prioritize their safety.

“We therefore ask that you issue strong, explicit directives to Members of the House regarding proper face coverings, social distancing, and other public health precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and local public health departments with all possible haste. Such measures will help protect Members of Congress and those whose work requires close contact with them.

“This virus will not be impressed by cavalier attitudes or political posturing, nor will its spread discriminate based on partisan allegiance. Social distancing and wearing masks saves lives. Congress should put sound medical and scientific advice first, and adopt them uniformly.”

The letter followed news that a Member of the House recently tested positive for COVID-19 after previously refusing to wear a face covering during interactions with colleagues and staff.

While new guidance from the Office of the Attending Physician (OAP) strongly recommends that Members wear masks in indoor locations on Capitol Hill under certain conditions, and extends a new requirement for hearings, some Members ignored prior OAP guidance which recommended the adoption of masks beginning in April.

A signed copy of the letter is available here, and text follows below.

***

Dear Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader McCarthy,

We write to raise public health concerns stemming from Congress’ resumption of official business in the nation’s capital amid a deadly pandemic.

We represent the residents of the National Capital Region, including those who live or work on Capitol Hill. To date, over 2,700 people living in the region have died from COVID-19, and tens of thousands have tested positive.[i] That figure includes Capitol Police officers,[ii] construction workers involved in projects at congressional office buildings,[iii][iv] congressional staff,[v][vi] and Members of Congress.[vii] It is abundantly clear that no one is immune to the deadly effects of this virus.

Given the toll this pandemic has taken on residents of Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area, we are dismayed by the reluctance of many of our colleagues serving in the House to take necessary precautions to protect those around them.[viii] We have personally observed Members of the House refusing to engage in social distancing or wear face coverings, and mocking those who do. We have read accounts and interviews with colleagues in which they defend their refusal to wear masks.[ix] Such conduct misses an opportunity which all of us as leaders should embrace – to model good, responsible behavior. Worse, it directly endangers our constituents who work in their proximity, some of whom have contacted us to say they are not comfortable working on Capitol Hill around Members of Congress who do not prioritize their safety.

Face coverings are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and the Attending Physician of the U.S. Congress to prevent transmission of the coronavirus.[x][xi] Their effectiveness in preventing the spread of this disease has been documented repeatedly in medical studies, particularly in indoor areas where adequate social distancing is made difficult by tight spaces, which is true of the U.S. Capitol.[xii][xiii][xiv] Face coverings are also required by orders issued by the leaders of the jurisdictions we represent for anyone who visits a store, patronizes an indoor business, or rides public transportation.[xv][xvi][xvii][xviii] For average citizens, these orders are not optional, they are a legally-mandated public health requirement. Yet in Congress, where the nation’s leaders gather, these simple lifesaving precautions are ignored too often.

We therefore ask that you issue strong, explicit directives to Members of the House regarding proper face coverings, social distancing, and other public health precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and local public health departments with all possible haste. Such measures will help protect Members of Congress and those whose work requires close contact with them. Senate leaders recently encouraged their Members to adopt face coverings,[xix] and we believe the House should as well.

This virus will not be impressed by cavalier attitudes or political posturing, nor will its spread discriminate based on partisan allegiance. Social distancing and wearing masks saves lives. Congress should put sound medical and scientific advice first, and adopt them uniformly.

We thank you for your consideration in this matter.

Sincerely,



[i] Rebecca Tan et al, “Known coronavirus deaths and cases in D.C., Maryland and Virginia,” Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/local/dc-maryland-virginia-coronavirus-cases/

[ii] Scott MacFarlane, “14 Capitol Police Officers Test Positive for Coronavirus,” NBC Washington, May 5, 2020 https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/capitol-police-officers-test-positive-for-coronavirus/2294270/

[iii] Martin Austermuhle, “11 Construction Workers Renovating Congressional Office Building Test Positive For COVID-19,” DCist, April 24, 2020 https://dcist.com/story/20/04/24/11-construction-workers-renovating-congressional-office-building-test-positive-for-covid-19/

[iv] Chris Marquette, “Members, staff in the dark about prevalence of Capitol Hill coronavirus cases,” Roll Call, April 29, 2020 https://www.rollcall.com/2020/04/29/members-staff-in-the-dark-about-prevalence-of-capitol-hill-coronavirus-cases/

[v] Rebecca Klar, “Second Capitol Hill staffer tests positive for coronavirus,” The Hill, March 15, 2020

https://thehill.com/homenews/house/487691-another-capitol-hill-staffer-tests-positive-for-coronavirus

[vi] David Lim, “Alexander to remotely chair coronavirus hearing after staffer tests positive for virus,” Politico, May 10, 2020 https://www.politico.com/news/2020/05/10/alexander-coronavirus-hearing-staffer-positive-248512

[vii] Claudia Grisales, “How The Coronavirus Has Affected Individual Members Of Congress,” NPR, May 21, 2020 https://www.npr.org/2020/04/15/833692377/how-the-coronavirus-has-affected-individual-members-of-congress

[viii] John Bresnahan & Sarah Ferris, “A feud over face masks and pandemic relief: Congress returns,” Politico, April 23, 2020 https://www.politico.com/news/2020/04/23/coronavirus-congress-feuding-205773

[ix] Manu Raju, “GOP's no-mask caucus: 'Can you smell through that mask?' CNN, May 28, 2020 https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/28/politics/house-republicans-masks-debate-covid/index.html

[x] “Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19,” Centers for Disease Control https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html

[xi] Paul D. Irving, Sergeant at Arms, and Dr. Brian P. Monahan, Attending Physician, “Dear Colleague: Procedures For House Sessions,” Office of the Sergeant At Arms, May 26, 2020

[xii] Kar Keung Cheng et al, “Wearing face masks in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic: altruism and solidarity,” The Lancet, April 16, 2020 https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30918-1/fulltext

[xiii] Eli N. Perencevich, MD, MS et al, “Moving Personal Protective Equipment Into the Community: Face Shields and Containment of COVID-19,” Journal of the American Medical Association, May 7, 2020 https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2765525

[xiv] Michael Klompas, M.D., M.P.H et al, “Universal Masking in Hospitals in the Covid-19 Era,” New England Journal of Medicine, May 21, 2020 https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2006372

[xv] Mayor Muriel Bowser, “Executive Order: Extensions of Public Emergency and Public Health Emergency and Preparation for Washington, DC Reopening,” Office of the Mayor, May 13, 2020 https://coronavirus.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/coronavirus/page_content/attachments/Mayors-Order-2020-066-Extensions-of-Public-Emergency-and-Public-Health.pdf

[xvi] Governor Ralph Northam, “Governor Northam Announces Face Covering Requirement and Workplace Safety Regulations,” Office of the Governor, May 26, 2020 https://www.governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/all-releases/2020/may/headline-857020-en.html

[xvii] Kolbie Satterfield, “New face mask requirements slated to start this week in two Maryland counties,” WUSA9, April 12, 2020 https://www.wusa9.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/new-face-mask-requirements-for-two-maryland-counties/65-41da7c4d-d85f-4be2-a091-62220fe608a3

[xviii] “Customers should wear cloth face coverings on Metro,” Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority https://www.wmata.com/service/status/details/covid-face-covering.cfm

[xix] Caitlin Oprysko, “‘There’s no stigma attached to wearing a mask’: McConnell makes plea in favor of face masks,” Politico, May 27, 2020 https://www.politico.com/news/2020/05/27/mitch-mcconnell-plea-face-masks-285272