DALLAS — President Joe Biden called the decision of state officials in Texas and Mississippi to lift mask mandates and lift restrictions on businesses a "big mistake."
On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that effective March 10, state orders for mask use and restricting businesses would be lifted.
Biden, who has spoken strongly in favor of masks prior to and since taking office, had strong words for Texas leaders.
“And the last thing, the last thing we need is the Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime everything’s fine, take off your mask, forget it," said Biden. "It still matters...It’s critical, critical, critical, critical that they follow the science."
During his announcement Tuesday, Abbott acknowledged that COVID-19 has not disappeared, but said that based on recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices, state mandates aren't needed.
"The fact is, Texas now has the tools and knowledge to combat COVID while also allowing Texans and small businesses to make their own decisions," said Abbott's Press Secretary Renae Eze. "It is clear from the recoveries, the vaccinations, the reduced hospitalizations, and the safe practices that Texans are using, that state mandates are no longer needed. We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans."
However, health experts and the CDC stress that mask wearing, social distancing, hand washing, and other measures are still essential to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
"Look, I hope everybody has realized by now these masks make a difference. We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way we are able to get vaccine in people’s arm,” Biden said.
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also called the move premature.
“I think we at the CDC have been very clear that now is not the time to release all restrictions,” Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control, said in a briefing Wednesday morning. “The next month or two is really pivotal with how this pandemic goes as we scale up vaccinations, we really do need to decrease the amount of the virus that is circulating as we are trying to vaccinate all of the public.”
Walensky also explained that Americans are still empowered to do what is necessary to protect their health and the community against the spread of the coronavirus.
“I will also note that every individual is empowered to do the right thing here regardless of what the states decide, for personal health, for public health, for the health of their loved ones, and communities,” she said. “I would still encourage individuals to wear a mask, to socially distance, to do the right thing to protect their own health.”
Biden spoke to reporters in Washington, D.C., after holding a session with lawmakers on a separate topic.