COVID-19: Federal mask mandates debated as Vance proposes ‘Freedom to Breathe’ Act

U.S. Sen. JD Vance, R-Cincinnati said the “Freedom to Breathe Act” that he introduced Thursday afternoon on the Senate floor would prevent the federal government from again imposing facial mask mandates in the country as COVID-19 cases increase.

“We cannot repeat the anxiety, the stress and the non-stop panic of the last couple of years,” said Vance, a Middletown native. “End the mandates, end the panic, let’s get back to some common sense.”

The “Freedom to Breathe Act,” which would apply through the end of 2024, seeks to prohibit any federal official, including the President of the United States, from issuing mask mandates for domestic air travel, public transit systems, or primary, secondary, and post-secondary schools, according to Vance.

The legislation would also prohibit air carriers, transit authorities, and educational institutions from refusing service to individuals who choose not to wear a mask, he said.

“Let’s learn from the mistakes we made instead of doubling down on them,” Vance said.

In response, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. said during the last three years, 1,139,000 people in the U.S. died from COVID-19 and respiratory illnesses. He said medical experts have said that COVID-19 is “coming back and it’s on the rise again.”

He said local communities that want to reduce the spread of the virus should be allowed to use the “tools of vaccines and masks.”

“We must protect the freedoms” of communities to take every measure to keep local residents safe, he said.

Markey said the GOP should stand for “Gimmicks Over People.”

He called the act “a false debate.”

In response, Vance said he wished no one had died from COVID-19, but those deaths occurred even during some of the “most aggressive” measures like mandated masks that were pushed by Democrats.

It’s time for “calmness, resolve and strategic thinking, not by pretending the world is ending,” Vance said.

Vance, the father of three children under the age of 7, said this country needs not to be “chicken little” about every respiratory pandemic and problem that confronts this country.

The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show hospitalization across the country increased 15.7% from July 28 through Aug. 26. COVID-19 deaths have trended up 17.6% in the most recent week, according to

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday the state is unlikely to reinstate rules in place at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People have asked me, ‘Are we going to see masks come back in Ohio?’ I don’t think that’s going to happen,” DeWine told the Columbus Dispatch on Thursday. “We’re at a very different stage. We would still encourage people who have not been vaccinated to get vaccinated and keep their vaccinations up, whether it is in regard to COVID or whether it’s flu. We have the flu season coming. So these all continue to be important things.”

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