with Alexandra Ellerbeck

The House of Representatives has become a microcosm of the nation’s mask wars.

Those who need to wear masks aren’t, and those who don’t need to wear them are.

GOP members are demanding a removal of the mask mandate in the House chamber even as many refuse to get vaccinated.

Fewer than half of House Republican members have agreed to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to a CNN survey. Around 45 percent have been vaccinated, compared with at least 92 percent of Senate Republicans and all Senate and House Democrats. That comports with polling finding Republicans are less willing than Democrats to be vaccinated.

Yet it's Republican members who are also rebelling against masks — much like their voters around the country. A dozen refused to put on masks in the House chamber this week, my colleague Felicia Sonmez reports.

Politicos Melanie Zanona:

NBCs Haley Talbot:

“Now three of those GOP lawmakers — Brian Mast (Fla.), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (Iowa), a physician, and Beth Van Duyne (Tex.) — face $500 fines for breaking the rules,” Felicia writes. “All three were fined because this was the second time they defied the mask mandate, while seven other Republicans were issued a first warning.

Republicans were incensed that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has refused to remove the mask mandates, despite new federal guidance saying fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear one in most circumstances.

Who's fine with keeping masks on? The fully-vaccinated Democratic caucus.

There were (unsurprisingly) no public complaints from House Democrats, who have little to fear from removing masks.

Similarly, groups and individuals on their side of the political aisle have been the most reluctant to remove masks and most critical of the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. That more-relaxed guidance, released by the agency last week, sparked some concerns that an honor system will allow the unvaccinated a pass to take off their masks whenever they want.

Others are simply afraid of appearing as anti-masking Republicans.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is pushing for an anti-mask resolution.

The resolution, which he introduced yesterday, urges the attending Capitol physician to “take timely action to provide updated mask-wearing guidance” for vaccinated lawmakers and staff in the House chamber and committee spaces.

It says the guidance should be updated for vaccinated lawmakers, in accordance with new CDC guidelines. That would in theory preclude allowing the unvaccinated Republicans from removing their masks — except McCarthy isn’t on board with requiring members to show proof of vaccination.

McCarthy doesn’t call for showing vaccination cards, spokeswoman Michele Exner told me in an email.

“This is not a requirement used by other entities that have lifted the mask mandates, and it shouldn’t be applied here,” Exner wrote. “We hope Democrats join House Republicans in following the science, and sending a clear signal to the American people that the vaccine is both safe and effective.”

Yet many in McCarthy’s GOP conference don’t appear to trust the vaccines.

Or if they do trust them, they at least don’t consider the vaccines important enough to take them. Pelosi has cited the high rates of vaccine refusal among Republican members as a reason to continue the masking requirement in the House chamber.

Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi, said McCarthy should “get to work vaccinating his members” if he wants to be maskless on the House floor.

The Posts Paul Kane:

Attending physician Brian Monahan is siding with Pelosi.

In a statement issued yesterday, Monahan wrote that “extra precautions are necessary given the substantial number of partially vaccinated, unvaccinated and vaccine-indeterminate individuals.”

Monahan added that the mask requirement for the House chamber “is entirely consistent with Centers for Disease Control prevailing mask guidance as reviewed and endorsed by an expert CDC panel.”

Ahh, oof and ouch

AHH: Vaccine maker Johnson & Johnson documented contamination risks nearly a year ago. 

“Johnson & Johnson documented serious contamination risks at a troubled Baltimore biodefense plant in June 2020, seven months before a contamination incident ruined 15 million doses of coronavirus vaccine and derailed Johnson & Johnson’s domestic vaccine production, according to documents disclosed Wednesday by a House panel investigating the incident,” The Post’s Christopher Rowland reports.

The documents “raise questions about oversight by Johnson & Johnson as well as the Trump administration, which the newly released records show also knew of production risks at the Emergent BioSolutions facility.”

The report from the House Oversight select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis comes after a cross-contamination incident ruined a batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccine supply and led to a manufacturing shutdown. A subsequent Food and Drug Administration inspection found multiple problems at the site. Because Johnson & Johnson relied on Emergent as its only domestic manufacturer, the result has been a shut-off in the supply of the single-shot vaccine.

House lawmakers grilled Emergent’s chief executive, Robert G. Kramer, and founder and executive chairman, Fuad El-Hibri, in a hearing yesterday:

Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), chairman of the select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis:

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) questioned Emergent's CEO over his bonus:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also weighed in:

OOF: Unions were disappointed with the CDC’s surprise mask guidance.

They say the CDC failed to coordinate with other agencies, like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which help ensure the protection of workers, including those at higher risk for illness from the virus. Several senior White House officials also told Politico the CDC did not inform them of the new guidance until the morning of its announcement.

“The White House is in the last stages of finalizing emergency Covid-19 workplace safety rules from OSHA, which unions, management-side attorneys and workplace safety experts broadly expected to include a mask mandate — until the administration’s latest changes to its guidelines last week,” Politico’s Rebecca Rainey reports. “Worker safety advocates now fear the Biden administration is abandoning its promise to issue stringent workplace safety rules employers must follow to protect their workers from the coronavirus.”

Many unions and safety advocates were surprised by the CDC’s advice that vaccinated Americans can shed their masks in all but a few settings. While there’s strong evidence that breakthrough infections are rare and that the vaccinated are unlikely to transmit the virus, it’s hard to tell who has been vaccinated. As states and businesses roll back their mask requirements, unvaccinated workers and those who are immunocompromised could be at risk.

“Theres no coordination,” David Michaels, an epidemiologist who led OSHA during the Obama administration, told Politico. “The CDC didn’t coordinate with either OSHA or EEOC. And thats resulted in chaos in the workplaces across the country.”

OUCH: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law banning abortion as early as six weeks.

Opponents say the six-week cutoff, the point around which it is possible to detect a fetal heartbeat, would effectively serve as an outright ban on abortions, since most women do not know they are pregnant by then. The bill would empower private citizens to sue abortion providers or anyone who helps someone get an abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat.

“Proponents of the new law hope to get around the legal challenges that have tied up abortion restrictions in the courts. While abortion providers typically sue the state to stop a restrictive abortion law from taking effect, there’s no state official enforcing Senate Bill 8 — so there’s no one to sue, the bill’s proponents say,” according to the Texas Tribune’s Shannon Najmabadi.

The new law comes just after the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will hear a case concerning a Mississippi law banning abortion at 15 weeks. Experts on both sides of the abortion debate have said the court case could jeopardize Roe v. Wade’s protection of a woman’s right to have an abortion before the fetus can survive outside the womb.

Coronavirus origins

Scientists have reignited a debate about the origins of the coronavirus.

The generally accepted scientific hypothesis holds that the coronavirus emerged in animals and acquired natural mutations that allowed it to jump to humans. But some scientists have said it's not yet possible to dismiss an alternative hypothesis: that the virus escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China, possibly after being manipulated to be more dangerous as part of a gain-of-function experiment gone awry.

“The lab leak hypothesis has picked up more adherents as time passes and scientists fail to detect a bat or other animal infected with a virus that has covid’s signature genetics. By contrast, within a few months of the start of the 2003 SARS pandemic, scientists found the culprit coronavirus in animals sold in Chinese markets,” Kaiser Health News’s Arthur Allen reports.

Last week, 18 virus and immunology experts published a letter in the journal Science calling for further investigation into the origins of the virus. “Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable,” they wrote. 

Among the signatories was Ralph Baric, a virologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has worked directly with top scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. While Baric told KHN he personally believes in a natural origin for the virus, he signed the letter to encourage the World Health Organization to conduct a more thorough investigation.

More in coronavirus news

  • Ohio has seen an uptick in vaccine registrations after it said it will offer $1 million lottery prizes to five vaccinated adults, ABC News’s Marlene Lenthang and Ivan Pereira report. More than 113,000 residents received their first dose in the week after the promotion was announced, representing a week-to-week jump of 53 percent.

New York Times reporter John Schwartz:

  • Drone companies are gearing up to deliver refrigerated vaccine doses to people in some of the most remote corners of the United States, The Post’s Dalvin Brown reports.
     
  • The Indian Medical Association said that 50 doctors died in India in a single day on Sunday, the Daily Mail reports. India reported more than 4,500 deaths from covid-19 on Wednesday, representing the worst single-day death toll of any country during the pandemic.

The Posts health reporter Dan Diamond:

Elsewhere in healthcare

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed a law banning sex-reassignment treatment for young minors.

“The move makes Tennessee just the second state in the United States to enact such a ban after Arkansas approved a similar version earlier this year over a veto from Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson,” the Associated Press’s Kimberlee Kruesi reports.

“Tennessee’s version, which goes into effect immediately, is slightly different. Under the new law, doctors would be banned from providing gender-confirming hormone treatment to prepubescent minors. Arkansas’ ban applies to anyone under the age of 18 and also specifically bans doctors from providing gender-confirming surgery,” Kruesi writes.

It’s unclear how much of an impact Tennessee’s law will have. Advocates say no doctor in the state is providing hormone therapy to prepubescent children, which would go against recommendations from medical groups like the Endocrine Society.

Sugar rush