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Congressman Clay Higgins: ‘Can you smell through that mask?’

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(CNN) Call them the no-mask caucus.

A contingent of House Republicans continues to defy the recommendations of public health experts and Congress’ top physician to wear face coverings to limit the spread of Covid-19, refusing to wear them on the floor of the chamber, in the hallways of the Capitol or when chatting with aides and colleagues — even when they’re unable to maintain a social distance.

Some members say they will wear masks in more crowded locations, like in airports, on airplanes and in grocery stores.

And others flatly refuse to wear them at all.”Can you smell through that mask?” Rep. Clay Higgins, a Republican of Louisiana, told CNN on Thursday.

“Then you’re not stopping any sort of a virus. It’s part of the dehumanization of the children of God. You’re participating in it by wearing a mask.”

“What you’re wearing is a bacteria trap; it’s not helping your health or anybody else’s,” said Higgins, who had just gotten off a cramped elevator with two other GOP members, none of whom were wearing masks.Higgins’ statement is not supported by the science.

Smells do not carry viral particles. Viruses are carried in particles of mucus or saliva that spray from the mouth and nose when people sneeze, cough or talk.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that Covid-19 can spread between people in close proximity — even when they are not exhibiting symptoms, urging masks to limit the possibility of the disease spreading while people are interacting.

And particularly because the disease can spread between asymptomatic people, the CDC recommends the use of cloth face coverings in areas where “social distancing measures are difficult to maintain” and “especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

“Because members are often in tight corridors in Congress, the Capitol physician, Dr. Brian Monahan, has repeatedly urged members to wear masks, including on the House floor, given the challenges to physically distance.

“Use of a face covering, while voluntary, is strongly recommended for members and staff in any proceeding when it may not be possible to maintain the minimum six-foot separation distance,” Monahan, along with House sergeant-at-arms Paul Irving, wrote in a memo to all members of Congress earlier this week.

While most members in both parties wear face coverings throughout the Capitol, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, other than when they speak on camera, it’s a group of Republicans who choose not to wear face coverings while Democrats universally are spotted wearing masks while in the chamber.

Police officers, aides, reporters in the Capitol and all but a couple of senators wear masks — but a group of House Republicans continue to choose not to, something President Donald Trump has refused to do as well.

The House has taken steps to promote physical distancing by limiting the number of members who can be present at one time on the floor by staggering vote times, while indicating which seats can be occupied to ensure proper spacing.

Monahan and Irving said in their memo that “members are encouraged to remain in their offices” unless participating in floor debate.

But it is not enforced.Indeed, a number of GOP members don’t heed that advice — particularly Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, who spends much of his time on the floor while interacting with members and not wearing a mask.

On Thursday, Gohmert and Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, engaged in a long conversation on the House floor — while interacting with other members of the House.

Neither was wearing a mask, and they were within 6 feet of one another.”Well, I wear a mask when there’s tight quarters and people appreciate that I do,” King said Thursday when asked about the matter.

“I’ve been wearing them what I think is in a prudent way.”Others seem to be critical of what the federal government is saying about masks.

Rep. Andy Biggs, an Arizona Republican who’s chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, has not been wearing a mask while on the floor with his colleagues and has been carrying on conversations at length with them.

He said Thursday he’s relying on science from the University of Minnesota about the use of masks — and noted that public health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci and US Surgeon General Jerome Adams say wearing a mask isn’t always necessary when maintaining a safe social distance.

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