OPINION: This article contains commentary which may reflect the author's opinion
To protect members from COVID-19, or just to be obnoxious, the assistant speaker of the House proposes that unmasked legislators sit behind plexiglass ‘isolation boxes’.
Katherine Clark, a Democratic Congresswoman, suggested the measure because fines have not prevented some members from violating rules.
Recently, it was revealed that Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Andrew Clyde had been fined over $100,000 for repeated infractions.
‘This callous disregard for House rules endangers the health of members of Congress and the professional staff whose physical presence is required to ensure continuity of government,’ wrote the assistant speaker in a letter to William Walker, the House Sergeant at Arms.
‘This has only become more urgent with the emergence of the highly infectious Omicron variant and what the Attending Physician describes as an ‘unprecedented number of cases in the Capitol community.’
Although the fines currently stand at $500 for first-time offenders and $2500 for repeat offenders, some conservative lawmakers still appear without masks.
‘That is why, in addition to imposing fines, I am requesting that your office begin requiring members who fail to comply with this rule to attend the House floor from the isolation boxes in the House gallery,’ wrote Clark.
‘This commonsense step will not only protect our dedicated House staff from members who refuse to follow House rules, but it will also allow those members to continue to fulfill their constitutional duty to vote on matters before the House.’
The gallery of the chamber was fitted with plexiglass last January to provide ‘isolation boxes’ for quarantining members who needed to be present for the vote that determined who the Speaker would be.
Greene has never backed down from her stance. She dismisses the mask requirement as “communist” and she has not been vaccinated.
‘The American people have had enough and are standing up against these outrageous and unconstitutional policies,’ Greene stated.
Greene responded in a Tweet to Clark about isolation boxes.
A question for @RepKClark from Congresswoman Greene:
Speaking of special enclosures, were you inside the box @SpeakerPelosi built for COVID exposed, positive, or quarantining members?https://t.co/C6XIvWdxPK https://t.co/Hn6YfOgwRI pic.twitter.com/nt8igvRbhI
— Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (@RepMTG) January 11, 2022
In the eyes of Republican lawmakers, a double standard is in play.
Ted Cruz, the U.S. senator from Texas, slammed a lectern on Tuesday after accusing the Biden administration of hypocrisy on COVID policy and railing against one-sided media coverage asking only Republicans why they weren’t wearing masks.
During a Republican press conference to discuss President Joe Biden’s efforts to pass voting rights legislation, Cruz was asked why he and his colleagues did not wear masks.
Cruz replied that everyone with him had been double vaccinated and had gotten the booster shot.
‘And by the way, on the question of hypocrisy, you just asked, you people at the podium are speaking without masks.
‘Just once, I’d like to see a reporter say to Joe Biden when he stands at the damn podium in the White House without a mask, “Mr. President, why aren’t you wearing a mask?” Cruz said as he slammed the podium with his fists for emphasis.
‘Just once, I’d like to see you say to Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary when she stands at the podium with no mask, “Ms. Psaki, why don’t you have a mask?’
‘The questions are only directed at one side, and I got to say that the American people see the hypocrisy.’
The Republican senator was responding to a reporter’s mention of a line of GOP senators without masks in front of the media.
Several days ago, the Attending Physician of Congress advised members to stay at home in order to prevent the spreading of the highly contagious Omicron virus.
Several members of Congress have confirmed that they have caught COVID-19 over the past few days, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
AOC has especially provoked anger after pictures were released showing her barefaced in Florida, which liberals regard with disdain due to its relaxed response to COVID.
Officials in the House say they are having difficulty enforcing the rules.
In his testimony to lawmakers on Tuesday, Walker admitted that his staff had found it difficult to enforce the mask mandate.
‘I see people — members, staff — without masks, and I’ll walk up to them and I’ll ask them to put the mask on,’ Walker told them.
‘And some just walk away from me. Some put it on.’
Democrats’ push to force Americans to continue to wear masks comes as top scientists are saying that the Omicron variant will spend the end of the pandemic as it is so much less deadly.
In a report out a little over a week ago, Denmark’s chief epidemiologist, Tyra Grove Krause, spoke with Danish TV 2 in an interview and said that a study from Denmark’s State Serum Institute where she works shows that the risk of ending up in the hospital from Omicron is half that of the Delta variant.
Because of that, Krause said ‘we will have our normal lives back in two months.’
The leading epidemiologist went on to say that ‘I think we will have that in the next two months, and then I hope the infection will start to subside and we get our normal lives back.’
Krause’s peer, Viggo Andreasen, an associate professor and mathematical epidemiologist at Denmark’s Department of Science and the Environment, agrees with her and says that Omicron will become “something more reminiscent of a cold.” Andreasen made the statement in an interview with Danish TV 2 after Krause’s.
Krause said that Omicron could actually end the pandemic despite early fears that it was prolonging the pandemic due to an increased level of infection.
The study states that: ‘Omicron is here to stay, and it will provide some massive spread of infection in the coming month. When it’s over, we’re in a better place than we were before.’
Yet, the expert said that, despite the soaring infection rates in countries with the Omicron variant, the disease appears milder than the Delta variant, and therefore more people will be infected without displaying symptoms.
Consequently, this would provide the population with a high level of immunity.
Danish cases of the infection have spiked in recent weeks, and on Sunday registered an average of 20,886 infections across the previous week, which is one of Europe’s highest rates of 3,592.74 per million people.
Despite this, Ms Krause emphasized that there was still work to be done in the months to come to beat the pandemic.
‘Omicron will peak at the end of January, and in February we will see declining infection pressure and a decreasing pressure on the health care system,’ warned Krause.
‘But we have to make an effort in January, because it will be hard to get through.’
Krause said that Danes should follow long-established measures to slow the spread, including keeping a low profile, staying at home when symptoms appear, and practicing good hygiene.
Omicron’s spreading influence will continue to exert pressure on Denmark’s health care system, she said. ‘This is definitely what will be the challenge in the future.’
Andreasen is optimistic about Omicron ending the pandemic but puts the peak in February, not January. He said the reason for this is about half the population needs to be infected for the peak to come down. ‘And that is probably what you should expect to have to do before the epidemic starts to fall again,’ he said.
An equally positive announcement came three days earlier from Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization.
According to him, if we end the world’s inequality in vaccines by 2022, we will be able to stop the pandemic. It is still necessary to vaccinate large portions of non-western countries.
Jens Lundgren, a professor of infectious diseases at Rigshospitalet, the largest hospital in Denmark, says that with Omicron, we will see society normalizing in a few months, also. Agreeing with Krause’s prediction of the peak, he told Danish TV 2, ‘It will probably peak sometime during January and then phase out of society again. That is the expectation when we are dealing with a very contagious virus.’
Lundgren went on to say that, ‘overall, Omicron is less pathogenic.’