I was watching the Amy Coney Barrett hearings yesterday (October 12; today is October 13th 2020), and I noticed how none of the senators present were wearing masks. In her address, Kamala Harris, while also herself not wearing a mask, noted how dangerous it was for the members of the Senate to be present for the hearing, given that Covid-19 is so prevalent that even the President himself, with all his security detail, could contract the virus. I presume that the senators are seated 6 feet apart in the hearing chamber (I couldn't tell based on the layout of the cameras), but I can't think of a good reason why they should not also be masked, as Senator Harris suggested, nor can I understand why the hearing could not be done virtually so as to restrict the contact that each Senator had with others.

Furthermore, when Judge Barrett was asked to speak, she was asked to remove her mask before speaking as well; although she was silent the whole time the Senators were making their opening statements, she was asked to remove her mask when speaking. All logic and public health advice seems to suggest the opposite should be the case: When speaking, one should wear a mask, as one may eject aerosols with their breath, but when silent one ejects fewer particles and therefore it's "safer" to not wear a mask when silent.

So my questions are, by most-least important (the top question is the main question; if this question is viewed as "too broad" then feel free to answer only the first one):

  • Why were the attendants of the hearing not masked (what laws/procedures prevent this, or, alternately, was masking simply deemed unnecessary by the members)?
  • Why was the hearing not done virtually (what are the stated arguments by the members)?
  • Why, despite knowing the answers to the above 2 questions, did Senator Harris make an issue out of the health precautions in her opening address (this may require some opinion, unsure if there are any sources on this)?
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    – JJJ
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 9:42
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    Kamala Harris was on video conferencing. Of course she was not wearing a maks.
    – Burt
    Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 23:09
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    " All logic and public health advice seems to suggest the opposite should be the case" Not all logic because the point of speaking is to be heard clearly and masks may muffle one's voice.
    – eques
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 14:13

3 Answers 3


Question: Why is nobody in the Amy Coney Barrett hearings wearing masks?

I watched about 8 hours of the proceedings yesterday and I came away with the opposite impression. It is true that most of the Senators asking the questions did not wear masks while at the podium. Each did wear a mask prior to starting their questioning and quickly put the masks back on for every break and after concluding their questions. Even Lindsey Graham donned a mask prior to his opening comments and then again when caught on camera walking the Halls of the senate on break. As was everyone in the Halls of the Senate Lindsey was walking past in the halls. Judge Barrett also had a mask she put on upon every break and at the end of the proceedings. While the proceedings were going on social distancing was also in place.

The Senate is packed with elderly members and a number of them have already contracted covid (At White House event?). 3 Senators are currently in isolation due to covid. The Senate may politically be somewhat in step with the White House. They are absolutely not in agreement on the covid prevention steps.

Mitch McConnell has publicly said he's avoided the White House for months due to their lackadaisical coronavirus practices.

McConnell avoids visiting White House over its handling of coronavirus "I actually haven't been to the White House since August the 6th," he says.


The answer to your two questions is that because the GOP controls the Senate, Republicans set the rules for the hearings and it is now Republican orthodoxy that COVID-19 is no big deal and wearing masks makes you look weak.

It's certainly likely that if Chuck Schumer was the majority leader, this hearing would have been held virtually and/or anyone in person would have been wearing masks. However, Mitch McConnell is the majority leader and so the hearings are in person with no mask requirement. You mention Judge Barrett taking off her mask before speaking, but you neglect to mention that she was instructed to by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-GA).

So, to answer your question: Republicans were not wearing masks because Republicans are invested in minimizing the significance of COVID-19 and there are no requirements to wear masks because Republicans make the rules in the Senate for now.

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    If one believes the premise of your answer, then it makes sense why Republicans were not wearing masks. Why then were e.g. Senator Corey Booker D-NJ and Senator (apologies for not knowing her first name) Hirono D-HI not wearing masks? Are Democrats also minimizing the significance of wearing masks or were they instructed not to do so (by Republicans, with sources please)? Certainly there are copious things in life that we are not required to do, but we do anyway because they are the right things to do; Senators Booker and Hirono (and others) could have set an example (if the rules allowed).
    – Ertai87
    Commented Oct 13, 2020 at 16:17
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    @dandavis The main point is to keep others from getting sick. The virus can enter through any of your mucous membranes, so covering your mouth and nose reduces the risk a bit. It's also a physical reminder not to touch your face as much, which limits virus you may have picked up by touching a contaminated surface Commented Oct 13, 2020 at 20:32
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    @dandavis wearing a mask should also offer you some protection even if you're not infected, e.g. this or this.
    – Allure
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 0:49
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    I think you would need a statement from Schumer for the 2nd paragraph. If I recall correctly he has previously said the confirmation hearing should not be virtual. abcnews.go.com/Politics/…
    – Jontia
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 5:01
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    @Jontia That part is definitely speculation, but I think it's probably likely. Statements like that aren't really relevant here, I think, since Schumer thinks the hearing should be completely canceled, for reasons totally unrelated to COVID. I think if he wanted this hearing to happen, then he'd be open to ways to do it safely, but as it is, he's obviously going to come down on the side of canceling it altogether
    – divibisan
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 15:18

I am watching the confirmation proceeding now. The masks and social distancing rules were announced at the beginning and reiterated at least twice later. Nobody wears masks, Democrats and Republicans. It is not a partisan issue. Right now John Kennedy is speaking. He does not wear a mask. Before that Cory Booker was speaking, he did not wear a mask. Senator Harris was speaking from her home, so no masks, of course. Judge Barrett has a mask but does not wear it. The people (assistants) sitting behind the senators all wear masks.

Update: 8:15 pm. The hearing ends. Everybody puts on a mask and goes home.

  • Apologies for perhaps not understanding your English. Is your meaning "the rule stated is nobody wears masks"; or "the rules were announced and reiterated" and "nobody wears masks" are unrelated and separate statements? If the former then I'll accept this as the correct answer to the question.
    – Ertai87
    Commented Oct 13, 2020 at 22:37
  • @Ertai87: The rule was announced and reiterated. I did not pay much attention to that because it was not something extraordinary, I noticed that one senator brought a note from his physician saying that he is free of COVID-19.
    – user33768
    Commented Oct 13, 2020 at 22:45
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    It would be useful to include the stated rules if they were given twice. Although in fairness the crux of the question is 'why do the rules allow masks to be taken off'
    – Jontia
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 7:55
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    I really don't see how this answers the question. You say there was a rule, but you don't say what that rule is which is kind of the key to answering the question
    – divibisan
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 15:12
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    @Ertai87 What is the claim? That Senators cannot wear masks? That Senators don't have to wear masks? That masks are optional with a doctor's note? I believe that there was a rule, but I have no idea what it was based on this answer. If there were clarifications in now deleted comments that make it clearer, then could you edit those into the answer? Particularly now that the poster has deleted their account, and so is unlikely to improve the answer themselves
    – divibisan
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 16:30

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