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Masks optional for Biden's State of the Union

The Capitol's attending physician notified congressional offices that masks are no longer required ahead of Biden's State of the Union address on Tuesday.
Security Fencing Goes Up Around Capitol Complex ahead of State of the Union
The Dome of the Capitol Building is seen through security fencing on Sunday in Washington.Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Masks will be optional for members of Congress and others attending President Joe Biden's State of the Union address Tuesday, the Capitol's attending physician, Brian P. Monahan, said in a notice Sunday.

The notice said that KN95 or N95 masks are no longer required, and wearing a mask "is now an individual choice option."

Monahan pointed to decreasing Covid-19 case rates as well as new guidance announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late last week. He noted that the Washington, D.C. region is now in the "green level," or a low level of risk that allows for reduced coronavirus prevention measures.

The news comes as the White House also changed its mask policy, allowing fully vaccinated employees to go without masks at work, according to an internal email obtained by NBC News. That change, which will go into effect Tuesday, applies even to staff who work in close proximity to President Joe Biden. Officials are not changing other Covid protocols, including regular testing and vaccination requirements. 

According to the Capitol physician's notice, the case rate at the building's test center has decreased to a seven-day average of 2.7 percent, and the rate for the D.C. region has dropped to 4.7 percent. On Tuesday, D.C. is lifting its indoor mask requirement for certain venues.

Nearly 90 percent of Covid infections at the Capitol have occurred in people who have been vaccinated against the disease, Monahan said.

"'Breakthrough' infections among members and staff have not led to hospitalizations, serious complications, or deaths, attesting to the value of coronavirus vaccinations," he said.

Many Republican lawmakers on the Hill went without masks even under the requirement to wear them in the House. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., for example, has been hit with multiple fines for refusing to comply with the rules.

On Friday, the CDC announced that most Americans are safe without wearing a mask in indoor settings, including schools.

Biden is slated to deliver his first State of the Union address as president at 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday, although, as is customary, he delivered a speech to a joint session of Congress after taking office last year.