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As COVID restrictions ease, the full Congress is invited to attend State of the Union

Members of Congress, including Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., right, sat socially distanced as President Biden delivered an address to Congress on April 28, 2021. This year's State of the Union will see a fuller chamber.
Caroline Brehman
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Members of Congress, including Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., right, sat socially distanced as President Biden delivered an address to Congress on April 28, 2021. This year's State of the Union will see a fuller chamber.

All members of Congress have been invited to watch, in person, President Biden's upcoming State of the Union address — a dramatic departure from his speech to Congress last year, for which seating capacity was capped at about 20% as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Attendees of the March 1 event will need to submit a negative PCR test one day before the speech and wear "a high quality, properly fitted, medical-grade filtration mask (KN95 or N95) at all times," according to a Thursday memo from the House sergeant-at-arms. Representatives in the chamber must also "adhere to social distancing guidelines regarding seating separation distances," the memo said.

While all members have been invited to the event, guest attendance is prohibited.

The shift from last year's limited-seating address to full member capacity reflects the federal government's push to ease some of the most restrictive COVID-19 prevention measures, as Americans' patience with the pandemic — now nearing its third spring — has worn thin.

"As a result of all this progress and the tools we now have, we are moving toward a time when COVID isn't a crisis, but is something we can protect against and treat," Jeffrey Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said Wednesday. "The president and our COVID team are actively planning for this future."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had earlier this month expressed her desire to see a more traditional State of the Union, following last year's event.

"There's a great interest on the part of members to have more full — fuller participation in the State of the Union," she said at the time.

"With vaccinations and so much happening since last year, I think the people are ready to pivot in a way that shows to the American people we largely have been vaccinated here. We think that many more people can participate."

A CNN survey in May of last year found that 100% of congressional Democrats had been vaccinated, while at least 44.8% of House Republicans had been vaccinated and at least 92% of GOP senators were at the time.

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