President Joe Biden called it a ‘big mistake’ for Texas and Mississippi to reopen completely amid the coronavirus pandemic, referring to the decisions in the Oval Office as ‘neanderthal thinking’
President Joe Biden has blasted the ‘neanderthal’ decision by the Republican governors of Texas and Mississippi to drop mask mandates and fully reopen their states before their populations are vaccinated against COVID-19.
‘I think it’s a big mistake,’ Biden said on Wednesday in the Oval Office.
‘The last thing we need is neanderthal thinking.’
His stance comes a day after Texas Gov Greg Abbott declared it was time to ‘open Texas 100 percent’ with all restrictions in the Lone Star state, including mask mandates, to end March 10.
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves immediately followed suit announcing he is rolling back all county mask mandates and removing statewide restrictions on all businesses from today.
The two southern states join a rapidly growing movement by governors and other leaders across the US to loosen COVID-19 restrictions despite pleas from health officials.
Biden said it was ‘critical’ that governors across the country ‘follow the science’ as he urged Americans to be vigilant as the vaccine efforts continue.
‘We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease in which we are able to get vaccines in people’s arms,’ Biden said.
‘We’ve been able to move that all the way up to the end of May to have enough for every American, to get every adult American a shot, and the last thing, the last thing we need is neanderthal thinking – that in the meantime everything is fine, take off your mask, forget it.
‘It still matters. It’s going to take time.’
His stance comes a day after Texas Gov Greg Abbott (left) and Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves (right) both announced on Tuesday that their states would end mask mandates and reopen businesses without capacity limitations, policies that were supposed to stall the spread of COVID-19
‘Wash your hands, hot water, do it frequently, wear a mask and stay socially distanced,’ Biden said, repeating the federal advice. ‘I know you all know that,’ he told the reporters in the room.
‘I wish the heck some of our elected officials knew that,’ he said.
Biden’s tone was harsher than White House press secretary Jen Psaki after she earlier declined to take a swipe at the GOP governors head on.
Asked about the reopenings in Mississippi and Texas, Psaki pointed Biden’s push for Americans to wear masks for his first 100 days in office.
She said that was ‘based on the recommendations of health and medical experts… And their view is that it could save 50,000 lives,’ she said.
‘For nearly a year, we’ve been dealing and navigating and coping with this pandemic across the country and this entire country has paid the price for political leaders who ignored the science when it comes to the pandemic.’
She said the president is ‘hopeful’ people in these states will continue to follow the federal guidelines.
‘I would say we’re not asking people just to listen to the president, of course, we recommend that, but we’re asking people to listen to health experts, medical experts, the CDC, to Dr Fauci, to others who are basing their recommendations on how to save people’s lives,’ Psaki said.
The press secretary did not say if Biden had called Reeves or Abbott about their decisions to reopen.
‘He speaks with governors of both parties on a regular basis,’ Psaki said.
She also pointed out that Biden and Abbott were together in Texas on Friday surveying storm damage.
Texas will also do away with limits on the number of diners that businesses can serve indoors, said Abbott, who made the announcement at a restaurant in Lubbock. People sit at a bar and restaurant in Austin, Texas, in June 2020
TEXAS CASES: Like the rest of the country, Texas has seen the number of cases (depicted) and deaths plunge. Hospitalizations are at the lowest levels since October, and the seven-day rolling average of positive tests has dropped to about 7,600 cases, down from more than 10,000 in mid-February. Texas has seen a slight uptick in cases over the last week
Mississippi reported 301 new infections and 44 deaths on Tuesday. The state has recorded a total of 295,295, infections and 6,724 deaths. Attendees walk through the Mississippi State Fair in Jackson, Mississippi in October 2020
MISSISSIPPI CASES: Mississippi reported 301 new infections; the state has recorded a total of 295,295, infections
Most of the country has lived under mask mandates during the pandemic, with at least 37 states requiring face coverings to some degree. Those orders, however, are increasingly falling by the wayside: North Dakota, Montana and Iowa have also lifted mask orders in recent weeks.
Among the other states gradually reopening are Michigan and Louisiana with the easing of restrictions on bars, restaurants and other businesses. Massachusetts has lifted all restaurant capacity limits, South Carolina erased limits on gatherings and North Carolina allowed people back inside bars for the first time.
Chicago and Las Vegas’s public schools also welcomed back students this week and California has now reached an agreement that aims to get most children back in classrooms by the end of March.
As the easing of restrictions continues to varying degrees across the country, a number of health officials and medical experts were critical of the decision to drop all restrictions in some states – particularly mask mandates.
Dr Ashish Jha, Dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, said he was disappointed by Texas and Mississippi’s decision because the US was close to having all high-risk people vaccinated.
‘We’re so close to the finish line here in terms of vaccinating high risk people,’ he told ABC’s Good Morning America.
‘I wish Texas, Mississippi and others state would just hold off another little bit. We’re not talking about many more months, but certainly waiting until all high-risk people are vaccinated.’
Andy Slavitt, a White House COVID-19 senior adviser, told CNN that they understood the pressures governors were facing but urged them to rethink lifting mask mandates.
‘We think it’s a mistake to lift these mandates too early. Masks are saving a lot of lives,’ he said.
‘I’m really hoping that the businesses and the community and people in Texas, the mayors, the counties, will rethink this. I hope the governor rethinks this. Hopefully states will stick with this until such a time as we get through all the vaccinations and see the other side of this.’
In Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker lifted restaurant capacity limits entirely from Monday (pictured is a Boston restuarnt). Theaters can now open at 50 per cent capacity, with a maximum of 500 people, and capacity limits across all businesses have been raised to 50 per cent
MASSACHUSETTS: Confirmed cases have plunged in Massachusetts since peaking during the holiday season
The moves from Texas and Mississippi to reopen came just hours after CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned states not to ease COVID-19 restrictions too quickly – even as cases fall and the pace of the vaccine rollout picks up.
‘We stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,’ Dr Walensky said.
US cases have plunged more than 70 percent over the past two months from an average of nearly 250,000 new infections a day, while average deaths per day have plummeted about 40 percent since mid-January. The current nationwide average COVID numbers are at 2,000 deaths per day and 68,000 cases per day.
While cases are plunging nationally, Texas and Mississippi are among a handful of states that have seen a slight uptick in new infections and deaths in recent days. Hospitalizations are still trending downwards in both states, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project.
A year into the crisis, politicians and ordinary Americans alike have grown tired of rules meant to stem the spread of COVID that have damaged their livelihoods.
Texas on Tuesday became the biggest state to lift its mask rule. The Lone Star State will also do away with limits on the number of diners who can be served indoors.
‘Removing statewide mandates does not end personal responsibility,’ Gov Abbott said at a press conference held inside a restaurant.
‘COVID has not suddenly disappeared. It’s just that now state mandates are no longer needed.’
Retailers and other businesses will still be allowed to impose capacity limits and other restrictions on their own.
Texas is fully reopening just ahead of the spring break holiday, which health experts worry could lead to more spread.
Abbott’s rollbacks come just as the US is picking up the pace of vaccinating people – with victory over the virus in sight. In Texas, 7.1 percent of its nearly 30 million residents have been fully vaccinated, according to state data reported to the CDC.
Biden says US will have enough vaccines for every adult by end of MAY
Joe Biden announced on Tuesday that the US will have enough vaccine doses for every adult in the country by the end of May.
Biden made the announcement on the heels of green-lighting the Defense Production Act to be used to assist Merck & Co with manufacturing Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine.
As it’s a one-dose vaccine, with Johnson & Johnson, more people can be vaccinated with fewer doses.
Biden also announced an initiative to get schools reopened by prioritizing the vaccination of K-12 teachers and staff using the federal pharmacy program during a brief speech from the White House’s State Dining Room on Tuesday.
‘When we came into office the prior administration had contracted for not nearly enough vaccine to cover adults in America,’ he said pointing a finger at former President Donald Trump.
‘We rectified that about three weeks ago and were able to say that we’ll have enough vaccine supply for adults by the end of July.
‘I’m pleased to announce today as a consequence of the stepped up process that I’ve ordered and just outlined, this country will have enough vaccine supply – I’ll say it again – for every adult in America by the end of May. That’s progress.’
Dr. Joseph Varon, chief medical officer at Houston’s United Memorial Medical Center, said he called the hospital’s top leaders immediately after Abbott’s announcement and said they will need more staff and ventilators.
‘I am just concerned that I am going to have a tsunami of new cases,’ Varon said. ‘I truly hope I am wrong. But unfortunately history seems to repeat itself.’
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said he is getting rid of most mask mandates and lifting most other restrictions, including limits on seating in restaurants, starting Wednesday.
‘The governor’s office is getting out of the business of telling people what they can and cannot do,’ he said.
‘Today, I signed what I expect will be one of my last executive orders regarding COVID-19. Our hospitalizations have plummeted, and our case numbers have fallen dramatically as well. In fact, our case numbers have fallen to the point where no county meets the original criteria for a mask mandate.
He said he was replacing the current orders with recommendations. People are still being encouraged to wear masks and social distance but businesses will be left to make their own policies about reopening.
Schools, which reopened in Mississippi back in August, will still have mask mandates where social distancing is not possible.
Mississippi’s cases, deaths and hospitalizations have also plunged in recent weeks and are now at the lowest levels since October. The state has now fully vaccinated 7.5 percent of its population.
‘There will still be COVID in our communities, perhaps for a significant amount of time in our state, and across the country. We will all need to decide for ourselves how to assess the risks and rewards of each and every activity we choose to pursue,’ Reeves said.
‘But the risk of overwhelming our hospitals with severe COVID cases is coming to a close and gets less and less with each and every day we see more of our vulnerable get vaccinated.’
The governors of Michigan, and Louisiana have also eased restrictions on bars, restaurants and other businesses, as did the mayor of San Francisco.
In San Francisco, an upbeat Mayor London Breed announced that California gave the green light to indoor dining and the reopening of movie theaters and gyms.
‘You can enjoy your city, right here, right now,’ she said from Fisherman´s Wharf, one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions.
‘We are not where we need to be yet, but we’re getting there, San Francisco.’
In Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker lifted restaurant capacity limits entirely from Monday. Theaters can now open at 50 per cent capacity, with a maximum of 500 people. And capacity limits across all businesses have been raised to 50 per cent.
In Missouri, where individual communities get to make the rules, the two biggest metropolitan areas – St Louis and Kansas City – have already relaxed some measures.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said Friday bars and restaurants could resume normal hours and all size limits on events and gatherings were lifted but kept the mask mandate in place.
Over in Iowa, the governor recently lifted mask requirements and limits on the number of people allowed in bars and restaurants, while the town of Lawrence, home to the University of Kansas, now lets establishments stay open until midnight.
Las Vegas on Monday became the latest of the nation’s largest school districts to return children to classrooms. Pre-K children to third graders will go back two days a week, with other grades to be phased in by early April.
In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said that effective immediately, bars, restaurants and other businesses can increase indoor capacity to 50% and remain open until 1 a.m.
‘We have made incredible progress in recent weeks and months, and I thank our business community for their ongoing commitment to saving lives,’ Lightfoot said in a written statement.
In California, Gov Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders reached an agreement aimed at getting most children back in classrooms by the end of March. Under the deal announced Monday, school districts could receive up to $6.6billion if they reopen by March 31.