The governors of Texas and Mississippi both announced Tuesday that they are lifting mask mandates and allowing businesses to reopen at full capacity even as the decline in daily Covid-19 cases slows and federal officials urge states to exercise caution.
Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said at a news briefing at Montelongo’s Mexican Restaurant in Lubbock that he will issue a new executive order that rescinds most of his previous Covid-19 restrictions, including a statewide mask mandate. He added that all businesses would be allowed to open “100%,” effective March 10.
“Removing statewide mandates does not end personal responsibility,” Abbott said, speaking in a crowded dining room where many were not wearing masks. “It’s just that now state mandates are no longer needed.”
“It is now time to open Texas 100%,” he added. Abbott had refrained from issuing a mask mandate until the summer when Covid cases surged in the state.
At roughly the same time as Abbott’s remarks, Republican Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced at a separate news briefing that he is rescinding all county mask mandates and removing statewide restrictions on nearly all businesses.
“I am replacing our current orders with recommendations,” Reeves said. “The only rules that will remain in this order are a capacity limit of 50% on indoor arenas and those that govern K-12 schools.”
Reeves and Abbott both cited the declining number of new Covid-19 cases and the increasing availability of vaccines as reasons for ending the restrictions. But federal officials have been warning that the decline in new cases appears to be stalling out and that the emergence of new coronavirus variants could lead to a resurgence.
And while Covid-19 vaccines are increasingly available across the country, scientists with the CDC have warned that the country is far from herd immunity, which is when enough people have immunity from the virus can’t spread throughout the community.
On Monday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned state officials against lifting public health restrictions too quickly.
Walensky said at a White House Covid-19 briefing that while daily new cases have been falling rapidly since the peak in January, the decline appears to be levelling off at a worryingly high rate of infection. She added that the spread of new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus are a fresh threat that could undo the nation’s progress, even as vaccines roll out.
Over the past seven days, the U.S. reported an average of more than 67,700 daily new cases, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. That’s far below the peak of about 250,000 new cases every day that the country was reporting in January, but it’s still above the rate of infection the U.S. saw over the summer when the virus swept across the Sun Belt.
“At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” she said. “With these statistics, I am really worried about more states rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from Covid-19.”
“Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” she said.