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The White House is relaxing its mask mandate in time for President Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, according to a memo sent to staff on Monday.
“Effective tomorrow, Tuesday, March 1, we are lifting the requirement that fully vaccinated individuals wear masks on the White House campus,” the memo said. It added: “Some individuals will choose to continue to wear masks to protect themselves. We must respect these choices.”
The policy for unvaccinated people visiting the White House is not changing, a spokesman said: They will still be required to be tested, wear masks and maintain social distance. Nearly the entire White House staff is vaccinated.
A person familiar with the White House’s mask guidance said that the memo was a first step toward opening up the White House in the next few weeks, adding that the president and Jill Biden, the first lady, will have guests at the White House for food and drinks before the address on Tuesday. And up till now, they did not attend White House events with refreshments as part of Covid safety protocols.
Congress’s attending physician said on Sunday that the House of Representatives would lift its mask mandate in time for Mr. Biden’s address, and that all members of Congress could attend. Many states and cities across the country have also been announcing the ends of mask mandates.
The White House’s move reflects how quickly the conditions of the pandemic have changed in a matter of a few weeks, and how eager Mr. Biden is to project a symbolic return to normalcy. For last year’s State of the Union address, the president spoke to a mask-wearing audience in the Capitol that was kept much smaller than usual to accommodate social distancing.
Nationally, the United States is now averaging roughly 66,000 new coronavirus cases a day, according to a New York Times database — a figure that has plummeted from a peak of more than 800,000 a day in mid-January to a level comparable with the height of the summer surge in July 2020.
Mr. Biden said in an interview taped for the Super Bowl on Feb. 13 that it was “probably premature” for states to begin lifting mask mandates, though he acknowledged that the decision was a “tough call,” and that measures to contain the virus came at a cost.
“Omicron and all of the variants have had a profound impact on the psyche of the American people,” he said at the time.
Katie Rogers contributed reporting.