Nancy Pelosi has said lawmakers will be thrown out of the House of Representatives if they refuse to wear a mask, after the US recorded more than 150,000 coronavirus cases.
Under new regulations announced on Wednesday, representatives must wear a mask at all times while in the chamber, removing it only to address the house. Face coverings may be removed temporarily in office buildings to eat, drink, hold meetings and do interviews.
Anyone found flouting the rules will get booted out of the chamber. Democrat Rep Pelosi, 80, said the regulations – introduced four months after the pandemic first took hold in the US – would come into effect at 8am on Thursday morning.
“The chair would…like to remind members that the speaker has the authority to direct the sergeant at arms to remove a member from the floor as a matter of decorum,” Pelosi warned when announcing the mandate.
“To reiterate, the chair views the failure to wear a mask as a serious breach of decorum.”
The ruling came just hours after Republican congressman Louie Gohmert tested positive for Covid-19. He had been due to travel with the president.
In a statement issued via video on Twitter, the 66-year-old claimed he had been tested twice in the White House before he was set to make the trip to Texas.
Mr Gohmert said that he was asymptomatic and appeared to suggest that he may have contracted the disease by wearing a face mask.
“It is interesting, and I don’t know about everybody, but when I have a mask on, I’m moving it to make it comfortable, and I can’t help but wonder if that puts some germs in the mask,” he said in the video.
Mr Gohmert is not the only lawmaker to have caught the virus. In March, Senator Rand Paul was widely criticised after visiting the members’ gym while waiting for a test, which subsequently came back positive.
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According to the GovTrack.us website, at least three Democrats and seven Republicans said they were diagnosed or tested positive for the disease.
Coronavirus cases and deaths have continued to surge in the US after some states lifted lockdown restrictions in April.
On Thursday morning, US officials reported 63,255 new cases, bringing the total to 4.5 million. More than 153,000 people have died with the virus in the US while 2.2 million have recovered.