Sens. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) clashed on the Senate floor Thursday, debating Vance’s proposed bill to ban future mask mandates for COVID-19.
Vance’s bill, announced yesterday, would prevent the federal government from enforcing mask mandates in places like airplanes, where they were once in place during the height of the pandemic.
“We can not return to the failed policies of the COVID pandemic,” Vance said. “Let’s learn from the mistakes we made instead of just doubling down on them.”
Markey objected to the bill’s introduction on the floor, saying it would get in the way of local governments making decisions for themselves.
“This bill would undermine the ability of states, cities, towns across this country to make decisions about what’s best for their communities,” he said. “It would silence and hamstring public health experts who have guided our nation out of the darkest days of the pandemic that has killed 1,139,000 people in our country in three years.”
“This bill is a red herring. It is a false debate,” he continued. “It’s a distraction. It’s misleading, and it’s meant to distract from what the GOP really stands for right now: gimmicks over people.”
Vance responded to the criticism, saying that fears about rising COVID cases are overblown.
“We are about to have some serious respiratory problems — we always do in the fall — and maybe it will be worse this fall and this winter than before. But I think what our children most of all need … they need us to not be Chicken Little about every single respiratory pandemic and problem that confronts this country.”
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) backed Vance on the floor, calling the bill a “vital step in protecting individual rights.”
COVID cases are on the rise in the U.S., with some of the rise being somewhat expected, given fall and winter tend to be seasons where cases of respiratory illnesses climb. The number of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID has risen by double-digit percentages in recent weeks, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
Mask mandates are considered very unlikely, though. Vance cited a few private businesses and schools that are requiring people to wear masks, but experts have noted that a federal mandate will not likely happen again.
“We have to understand that COVID is here, and COVID is staying here,” said Andrew Pekosz, a professor of immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “So we’ll see increases, particularly viruses tend to circulate in schools quite effectively. But I don’t see anything concerning with respect to a massive surge.”
A new vaccine, tailored to more recent COVID variants, is expected to be deployed around the country later this month.
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