President Joe Biden said Wednesday that moves by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and others to lift statewide Covid restrictions showed “Neanderthal thinking.”
“I think it’s a big mistake. I hope everyone has realized right now these masks make a difference,” Biden said of the decision to lift mask mandates and other Covid mitigation measures. “We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we are able to get vaccines in people’s arms.”
The president’s remark came after both Texas and Mississippi issued executive orders Tuesday to eliminate mask mandates and let all business open at 100 percent capacity, flying in the face of health officials who have urged continued Covid restrictions. Biden has signed an executive order requiring mask-wearing on federal property but has little authority to overrule governors and other state and local officials.
Representatives for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday called on Americans to continue wearing masks and practice other pandemic mitigation measures even as governors in some states lift Covid restrictions.
“This entire country has paid the price for political leaders who ignored the science when it comes to the pandemic,” Psaki said. “People are starting to feel a little bit better in some cases. You go to the grocery store and there’s Clorox wipes available. A year into this, that feels better, but there’s still more that needs to be done. We need to remain vigilant.”
“We’re not asking people just to listen to the president,” she also said. “Of course, we recommend that, but we ask 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.”
The press secretary also said she was sure Biden would discuss coronavirus mitigation measures with the governors lifting those restrictions at the next opportunity.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said at a briefing earlier on Wednesday that “now is not the time” to lift all restrictions, which comes as the nation is scaling up its vaccine distribution.
“The next month or two is really pivotal in terms of how this pandemic goes,” she said.