U.S.|The White House tells staff to start wearing masks again, as coronavirus cases rise in Washington, D.C.
The White House is masking up again, just over two months after President Biden and senior government officials shed their face coverings in the biggest sign to date that the country was moving toward normalcy.
After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday that people vaccinated against the coronavirus should resume wearing masks in public indoor spaces in parts of the country where the virus is surging, all White House staff were instructed that they would be required to begin wearing masks again indoors.
The email to staff arrived at 5 p.m. on the dot, an hour after the C.D.C. updated its county data online and Washington, D.C., moved from yellow to orange, indicating that it had been classified as having a “substantial” level of community transmission, senior officials said.
Washington, D.C., had a seven-day average of 52 cases per 100,000 residents as of Tuesday afternoon, a 148 percent increase from the average two weeks ago.
“As a result, the White House will require all individuals — regardless of vaccination status — to wear a mask at all times when on campus,” according to an email to staff obtained by The New York Times, noting the new policy would begin on Wednesday morning.
White House staff were told that masks could be removed only when “alone in an office with a door that closes, or when eating or drinking and maintaining at least 8-10 feet of distance.” The new guidance represented a return to the stringent masking rules that defined the early months of the Biden administration, when staff members were prohibited from gathering in large groups and conducted most of their meetings in offices with the doors closed, on Zoom.
The email also noted that “the vast majority of those working on campus are fully vaccinated.”
The White House Correspondents Association quickly followed the administration’s example, emailing reporters who cover the White House and work in the building that it was “reimposing its mask requirement for all indoor spaces at the White House.”
Because Washington is one county, the new C.D.C. guidance pertains to the entire city. That is unlike many northeast areas like Pennsylvania and New York, which will have some counties masking while others do not.
Earlier in the day, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, delivered the daily press briefing without a mask, and members of her staff sat in the room with their faces uncovered. The majority of journalists in the room also did not wear masks.
“We will be prepared to wear masks again,” Ms. Psaki said earlier in the day, when asked how new C.D.C guidelines would affect the president and his staff.