Wearing a mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is an act of citizenship. It is also, of course, an act of self-preservation, but because mask-wearing appears more effective at preventing transmission of the virus than preventing your catching it yourself, wearing a face covering amounts to a small self-sacrifice in service of the greater good of communities, states, and, in aggregate, the country. Dr. Anthony Fauci articulated why he wears a mask this way: “I wear it for the reason that I believe it is effective,” he said. “It is not 100 percent effective—I mean, it’s sort of respect for the other person and have that other person respect you. You wear a mask. They wear a mask. You protect each other.” Many Americans, however, particularly those on the God-fearing, freedom-idolizing political right, refuse to wear masks, including the president of the United States. President Donald Trump’s signaling has been clear: He’s not only refused to wear a mask, he’s mocked those who do. Others in Congress have followed the president’s lead, refusing to wear a mask in the cramped corridors of the Capitol. The GOP’s “no-mask caucus” is an outlier even in its own party, but as virus rates continue to climb in portions of the country, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a move Tuesday to require House members to don a mask in committee hearings.
Pelosi is tightening restrictions on mask-wearing that had until this point been “strongly recommended” and largely adhered to by the vast majority of House members, other than the Trumpy no-mask holdouts, like Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs, and Louisiana Rep. Clay Higgins, among others that either stridently refuse or only occasionally wear masks in the chamber. The rationales used are diverse and generally nonsense. “Can you smell through that mask?” Higgins asked a CNN reporter during an interview at the Capitol. “Then you’re not stopping any sort of a virus. It’s part of the dehumanization of the children of God. You’re participating in it by wearing a mask.” Florida Republican Rep. Ted Yoho told CNN “there’s just no need” to wear a mask because the “only way you’re going to get” herd immunity “is to get exposed.” These are obviously bogus lines of thinking and lead to situations like that of South Carolina Republican Tom Rice, who announced this week he and his son had tested positive for the virus after being asked just 2½ weeks ago why he didn’t wear a mask around the Capitol.
New guidelines issued Tuesday by the attending physician of Congress, Brian Monahan, now require a mask for anyone meeting “in a limited enclosed space, such as a committee hearing room, for greater than 15 minutes.” Pelosi, in turn, directed committee chairs to require masks at committee meetings starting Wednesday and authorized the sergeant-at-arms to enforce the rule by barring entry to those refusing to cover their faces. Members who refuse to wear a mask will also be given the option of participating in hearings remotely. Under the new guidance, members are still encouraged but not required to wear masks on the House floor and in most other areas of the Capitol.