Health officials again warned states about easing pandemic restrictions on Wednesday, one day after Texas moved to reopen businesses at 100% capacity and repeal its mask mandate, the largest state to do so in recent weeks.
In a COVID-19 briefing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky called the next few months “pivotal” for the pandemic’s trajectory and urged states to take caution.
“I think we at the CDC have been very clear that now is not the time to release all restrictions,” Dr. Walensky said.
Later Wednesday in a meeting with Democratic lawmakers, Biden echoed the thoughts of his medical experts on states opening too early: "I think it's a big mistake."
"The last thing, the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking," he said.
"It's critical, critical, critical that they follow the science," Biden added. "Wash your hands, hot water, do it frequently. Wear a mask and stay socially distanced. I know you all know that. I wish to heck some of our elected officials knew it."
Asked what federal officials were doing to prevent premature state reopenings, COVID-19 Advisor Andy Slavitt said they were in constant contact with states and health officials across the U.S. who feel it’s the wrong time to reopen.
“We are using the absolute full extent of all of the areas where we have federal control,” Slavitt said. “And we are actively, actively being very, very clear on what we think needs to happen.”
On Tuesday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that the state would allow businesses to open at full capacity starting next week, citing a recent decline in hospitalizations. But health officials have warned that restrictions must continue even when numbers decline, in order to prevent a reversal of progress.
“Too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities. Too many small business owners have struggled to pay their bills,” Governor Abbott said. “It is now time to open Texas 100%.”
Abbott also announced the repeal of Texas’s mask mandate, the largest state to roll back that guidance so far.
Officials have repeatedly encouraged Americans to continue wearing masks to keep driving down the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
“We think it's critically important – critically important – particularly over the next period of time. This is not forever,” Slavitt said. “We know that it can save tens of thousands of lives if people do this.”
Dr. Walensky said that advice is especially important as coronavirus case numbers begin to level off, instead of steadily declining as they have in recent weeks.
“We continue to see troubling signs in the trajectory of the pandemic in the U.S., with the most recent declines in cases and deaths continuing to show signs of stalling,” the CDC Director said. “Today, we are at a critical nexus in the pandemic. Ao much can turn in the next few weeks.”
While case numbers are still lower this week compared to previous weeks, on average, the decline has flat-lined, with the average now hovering around 65,000 to 68,000 new cases per day.