Pelosi directs committee chairs to require face masks during proceedings

Philonise Floyd, a brother of George Floyd, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., arrive for a House Judiciary Committee hearing on proposed changes to police practices and accountability on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, June 10, 2020, in Washington. By Manu Raju, Sunlen Serfaty and Veronica Stracqualursi, CNN

(CNN) -- House lawmakers will now be required to wear face masks during committee proceedings under new guidance from Congress' top physician after a contingent of House Republicans continues to defy public health recommendations to wear face coverings to limit the spread of Covid-19.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi officially requested late Tuesday that congressional committee chairs require face masks at proceedings and bar lawmakers who fail to comply.

"For U.S. House of Representatives meetings in a limited enclosed space, such as a committee hearing room, for greater than 15 minutes, face coverings are REQUIRED," Capitol physician Dr. Brian Monahan wrote in a memo issued Tuesday.

The new requirement may come to a head Wednesday during the House Judiciary Committee vote on a police reform measure.

Members of the committee were seen wearing masks during their markup of the bill Wednesday, removing them at times to speak.

Several Republicans on that panel, including Reps. Jim Jordan, Louie Gohmert and Andy Biggs, have not been wearing masks in the House.

The Democratic chair, Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, kicked off the session by reminding the commitee of the new guidance.

"At this time, this requirement is only for sustained committee activity in enclosed spaces," a senior Democratic aide told CNN in an email. "This requirement will be enforced by the Sergeant at Arms and non-compliant Members will be denied entry."

House committee chairs will also have the option of not recognizing members who do not comply with the mask requirement, the aide said.

Face coverings will be offered to individuals arriving at the committee room without one and members who are denied entry will still have the option to participate virtually from their office.

Monahan has repeatedly urged members to wear masks, including on the House floor, given the challenges to physically distance.

But some House Republicans have refused to wear masks on the floor of the chamber, in the hallways of the Capitol or when chatting with aides and colleagues -- even when they're unable to maintain a social distance.

During a news conference Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican senators wore masks and removed them only to address reporters about their police reform proposal.

There have been positive Covid-19 cases in the House -- including GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, who has since recovered and has been spotted wearing a mask.

Republican Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina announced Monday on Facebook that he and his family were diagnosed with Covid-19 last week. He was seen not wearing a mask on the House floor when the chamber was in session on May 28.

Asked at the time by CNN why he chose not to wear a mask, Rice said, "I'm socially distancing. I'm staying six feet away from folks."

The senior Democratic aide said that Monahan's updated guidance comes as lawmakers have expressed concerns about committee hearings amid a jump in new Covid-19 cases in several states, and a "recently infected Member" who didn't wear a mask when he was last on the House floor.

The guidance also comes, the aide said, after Pelosi asked the Office of Attending Physician to reassess the mask guidance "based on the emerging scientific consensus" that masks slow the spread of the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that Covid-19 can spread between people in close proximity -- even when they are not exhibiting symptoms, urging masks to limit the possibility of the disease spreading while people are interacting. And particularly because the disease can spread between asymptomatic people, the CDC recommends the use of cloth face coverings in areas where "social distancing measures are difficult to maintain" and "especially in areas of significant community-based transmission."

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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