Biden says Texas and Mississippi reopening is a ‘big mistake’

President Joe Biden has blasted the Republican governors of Texas and Mississippi for dropping mask mandates and fully reopening 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.  

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’ 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (left) and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (right) both announced 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

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that Texas would be reopening, going against federal guidance

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that Texas would be reopening, going against federal guidance 

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.

‘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. 

‘I’m sure he will raise this the next opportunity he has,’ Psaki said.   

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.’ 

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. 

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