March 4, 2021

'Neanderthal thinking': Biden lambastes states for lifting coronavirus restrictions

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    President Biden and other officials on Wednesday lambasted states for relaxing coronavirus-related restrictions, arguing that Americans should continue to take precautions to prevent another surge in the epidemic.

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    Experts warn of fourth surge in America's epidemic

    Public health officials and experts say America is currently at a crossroads in its coronavirus epidemic, with the potential to see continued progress or for that progress to reverse if Americans stop adhering to public health measures.

    For six consecutive weeks, America's coronavirus epidemic had been showing signs of improvement, but over the past week progress has appeared to stall—with the United States' average number of newly reported coronavirus cases leveling off at nearly 65,000 per day, Axios' "Vitals" reports.

    "At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a White House news briefing Monday. "Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know could stop the spread of Covid-19 in our communities, not when we are so close."

    Even so, many states have begun rolling back such measures. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), for instance, on Tuesday issued an executive order ending a statewide mask mandate and allowing businesses to operate without capacity limits, effective March 10. And on Wednesday, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) announced he was lifting a statewide mask mandate and capacity limits on businesses.

    Biden and other officials criticize states for lifting measured aimed at containing epidemic

    President Biden and other officials on Wednesday criticized Texas, Mississippi, and other states for the rollbacks.

    "We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we're able to get vaccines in people's arms," Biden told reporters at the White House. "The last thing … we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything's fine, take off your mask, forget it. It still matters."

    Separately, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor for the White House's Covid-19 response, during an interview with CNN on Wednesday called the decision to loosen restrictions "inexplicable."

    Fauci said he "understand[s] the need to want to get back to normality, but you're only going to set yourself back if you just completely push aside the public health guidelines—particularly when we're dealing with anywhere from [55,000] to 70,000 infections per day in the United States."

    Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner called Abbott's decision "dangerous," and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said characterized the move as a "huge mistake," while Victor Treviño, the health authority of Laredo, said he believed the decision would "eliminate all the gains that we have achieved."

    In addition, during a White House briefing on Wednesday, Walensky reiterated CDC's stance that "now is not the time to release all restrictions" aimed at slowing transmission—and she urged Americans "do the right thing" and continue to practice social distancing and wearing face masks.

    "Every individual ... is empowered to do the right thing here, regardless of what the states decide for personal health, for public health, for their health, and their loved ones and communities," Walensky said.

    Governors defend their decisions to roll back restrictions

    However, Abbott and Reeves have both defended their decisions.

    In statement Tuesday, Abbott said, "We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans by opening Texas 100%. Make no mistake, Covid-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed."

    Meanwhile, Reeves on Wednesday, said, "Mississippians don't need handlers. As numbers drop, they can assess their choices and listen to experts. I guess I just think we should trust Americans, not insult them." However, Reeves also encouraged Mississippi residents to "do the right thing" and continue to wear face masks.

    Where America's coronavirus epidemic stands

    Overall, data compiled by the New York Times shows that U.S. officials on Wednesday reported about 66,714 new cases of the novel coronavirus. As of Thursday morning, officials had reported about 28.8 million cases since the United States' epidemic began.

    According to the Times, the United States' average daily number of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past week was 64,409—down by 17% compared with the average from two weeks ago.

    However, the Times' data showed that, as of Thursday morning, the rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying high" in Washington, D.C., and 13 states that have reported a daily average of at least 15 newly reported cases per 100,000 people over the past week. Those states are Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming.

    In addition, the rate of newly reported coronavirus cases was "going up" as of Thursday morning in Maine, Michigan, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which have had comparatively lower case rates, the Times reports.

    According to the data, rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying low" or declining from previously higher rates in the remaining U.S. states and territories.

    Meanwhile, data from The Atlantic's COVID Tracking Project shows there were 45,462 Americans with Covid-19 hospitalized for treatment on Wednesday, including 9,359 who were receiving care in an ICU and 3,094 who were on a ventilator.

    Further, data from the Times shows that U.S. officials reported about 2,369 new deaths linked to the coronavirus on Wednesday. As of Thursday morning, officials had reported about 518,079 U.S. deaths linked to the virus since the country's epidemic began.

    (Owens, "Vitals," Axios, 3/4; Holcombe, CNN, 3/4; Hanna/Maxouris, CNN, 3/4; Moya et al., New York Times, 3/4; Rascoe, NPR, 3/3; Bradner, CNN, 3/3; Sullivan, The Hill, 3/3; New York Times, 3/4; "COVID Tracking Project," The Atlantic, accessed 3/4).

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