GOP lawmakers introduce legislation to ban federal mask mandates

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(NewsNation) — Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation that would prohibit federal officials from issuing mask mandates when it comes to schools, domestic air travel, or public transit systems.

Sponsored in the Senate by Ohio’s J.D. Vance, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Mike Braun of Indiana, along with Rep. Eric Schmitt, R-Missouri in the House, this legislation would also prevent these institutions from refusing service to individuals who choose not to wear a mask.

“Multiple entities within our government, within the public health bureaucracy, there are local schools in the D.C. area now reimposing mask mandates — this is coming back unless we stop it from happening,” Vance said in a statement.

On the Senate floor Thursday, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, criticized the bill, saying that the provision violates “a long-held belief” in the Republican party that states and localities should not be told what to do by the federal government.

“This bill is little more than an attempt by Republicans to dismantle a public health infrastructure that had to be built in order to deal with this greatest of pandemics since 1918,” he said.

Added Markey: “Millions of Americans will be doing what we can to protect ourselves and our loved ones, and our communities must be able to take steps to save lives and keep people from getting sick, or getting sicker.”

Vance responded by saying that the legislation doesn’t prevent citizens from wearing masks if they personally choose to do so.

“Freedom is fundamentally about respecting that you might have a different view than I do — respecting that, accepting it and not using government mandates to force our fellow citizens to do exactly what we want them to do,” Vance said.

There have been some schools that have started reinstating masks and other pandemic regulations as they see an uptick of COVID-19 cases.

A Maryland elementary school, after three students in a classroom tested positive for COVID-19, required those in the affected classroom or who were exposed to the outbreak to wear masks for ten days, although this was not a school-wide mandate. And a college in Georgia had a 2-week mask mandate that is now over, though Morris Brown College says it will still continue other COVID-19 safety measures, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote.

Still, NewsNation partner The Hill points out that experts are doubtful government mandates on masks will return at this point, contrary to what Vance is suggesting.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a statement to Newsweek, said it does not currently intend to call for a return to mask mandates — although this might change if new variants cause cases to rise significantly.

“[The] CDC does not issue mandates, we make recommendations, and they are based on the current circumstances,” it told the publication. “We will continue monitoring and will adjust our recommendations accordingly.”

Data has consistently shown that wearing masks is effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19 in community settings. In addition, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have started trending up, although they are not increasing in numbers as high as they have in previous years.

NewsNation reporter Kellie Meyer contributed to this story.

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