President Joe Biden has urged Americans not to let their guard down even as COVID-19 infections plummet and vaccinations ramp up
President Joe Biden has urged people not to let their guard down with COVID-19 infections plummeting and vaccinations ramping up – as the Republican governors of Texas and Mississippi lifted all their restrictions to fully reopen their states.
Biden asked Americans to remain vigilant and warned the COVID outbreak could potentially surge again with new mutant variants, including the one initially found in the UK, spreading.
‘There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we cannot let our guard down now to ensure victory is inevitable; we can’t assume that. We must remain vigilant, act fast and aggressively and look out for one another,’ he said on Tuesday.
‘I have to be honest with you, this fight is far from over.’
His pleas came as the governors of Texas and Mississippi announced they were lifting all COVID-19 restrictions and mask mandates, with businesses able to reopen at full capacity within a matter of days.
Texas is the largest state to do away with mask mandates and restrictions as Gov Greg Abbott declared it was time to ‘open Texas 100 percent’. All restrictions in the Lone Star state will end March 10.
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves almost immediately followed suit announcing he is rolling back all county mask mandates and removing statewide restrictions on all businesses from today. The only restrictions to remain are a 50 percent capacity on indoor arenas and keeping rules in place for K-12 schools.
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.
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.
Biden’s pleas came as Texas Gov Greg Abbott (left) and Mississippi Gov Tate Reeves (right) announced they were lifting all COVID-19 restrictions and mask mandates, with businesses able to reopen at full capacity within a matter of days
‘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.
Biden said Tuesday that the US is now on track to vaccinate all adults by the end of May after he invoked the Defense Production Act to speed up the manufacturing of Johnson & Johnson’s newly-approved one-dose shot.
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 DEATHS: Texas on Tuesday reported 1,637 new infections and 59 new deaths, according to state data (depicted)
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.
Like the rest of the country, Texas has seen the number of cases 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.
Only California and New York have reported more COVID-19 deaths than Texas.
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.
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 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
MISSISSIPPI DEATHS: Mississippi reported 44 new deaths on Tuesday. The state has reported a total of 6,724 deaths since last year
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.’
Some experts fear the recent deadly storm could see a surge in transmission given people were forced to huddle in warming shelters after rolling power blackouts left 4.3 million people without power and more than 14.6 million were left without access to safe drinking water.
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 fulled 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 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.
The decline in new infections over the past few weeks was treated as a blessing and a curse by public health officials like Dr Walensky, who said she was encouraged by the somewhat mysterious trends, but cautioned that it was not yet time for the US to relax.
Experts struggled to explain the downturn, attributing it in part to the number of Americans who now have immunity from prior infection, in part to people getting serious and following restrictions and, to a lesser degree, the early effects of vaccinations.
More than 15 per cent of Americans have now had at least one dose.