Texas and Mississippi remove mandatory use of face masks 1:24
US President Joe Biden heads into his first science versus politics showdown with powerful Republican governors of the South, a clash that could define the outcome of the race to vaccinate enough Americans before the variants are imposed.
Biden on Tuesday called on the country to hold out for a while longer as he utilized the broad wartime powers under the Defense Production Act in another major leap forward in the inoculation campaign, announcing that there would be enough doses for all American adults. at the end of May.
It unveiled a groundbreaking plan for pharmaceutical giant Merck to make a vaccine developed by rival Johnson & Johnson.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we cannot lower our guard now to ensure that victory is inevitable;
we cannot assume that.
We must remain vigilant, act fast and aggressively and take care of each other, "said the president.
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But the governors of Texas and Mississippi defied warnings from the federal government not to relax restrictions and open their economies too quickly, acting on their own as new infections stabilize at high levels and fears mount of a big rebound in the coming weeks. .
On Monday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), warned that with the spread of variants, "we can completely lose our hard-earned ground." .
The impending openings are paradoxically a symptom of Biden's success as confidence grows in the availability of vaccines, which have been rolled out rapidly since he took office.
But experts warn that opening too quickly could provide the large petri dish that new variants of covid-19 need to thrive.
Not only are those variants regularly more infectious, but they could also make vaccines, which are expected to pave the way out of the year-long crisis, less effective.
That means states like Texas and Mississippi, which were slow to adopt measures like wearing face masks, are not only putting their own citizens at risk but all other Americans as well.
If new infections take hold before enough Americans are vaccinated, the desire to sway political sentiment that government scientific advice amounts to an infringement of individual liberty could delay a return to normal life.
"I have to be honest with you, this battle is far from over," Biden said at the White House, warning that the pandemic could start to worsen as new variants spread, such as those first found in the Kingdom. Kingdom and South Africa.
Yet in Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott took exactly the opposite tack, announcing that severe economic damage and a drop in infections were leading him to lift a mask-wearing mandate and all restrictions on business beginning in the next week.
"Now is the time to open Texas 100%," Abbott said.
The Texan is an ally of Donald Trump and part of a group of southern governors who last year heeded the then-president's demands to reopen while disobeying scientific advice, helping trigger a surge in infections in the summer that raised the National death toll from the pandemic, which now stands at more than half a million.
'A gigantic mistake'
In some ways, these premature openings are an example that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, with even more premature claims of victory over the virus, after previous celebrations helped ensure that the US earned the dubious distinction of have the most infections and deaths from covid-19.
Texas doctor 'furious' over face mask decision 2:18
"It's a huge mistake," Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine at George Washington University, told CNN's Erin Burnett.
"They're not doing well ... we've seen this movie and it didn't turn out well," Reiner said, referring to the state of the pandemic in Texas.
Another Republican from the South, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, also announced the end of all county mask mandates and said businesses can open at 100% capacity starting Wednesday.
“Our hospitalizations and the number of cases have plummeted, and the vaccine is being distributed rapidly.
Now is the time! ”Reeves tweeted on Tuesday.
Republicans aren't the only governors easing restrictions, as new COVID-19 cases and deaths from the virus have dropped after a peak during the holidays.
Some states and cities run by Democrats are doing it too, but unlike Texas and Mississippi, they don't act like the virus is just gone.
Premature openings are causing frustration in the White House as Biden tries to deliver on his promise to eradicate the virus and new advances in vaccine manufacturing indicate that relative safety could be only a few months away.
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"We certainly understand the pressure governors are under and appreciate the working relationship we have with Governor Abbott," Andy Slavitt, senior adviser to the White House covid-19 response team, told Wolf Blitzer of CNN.
“But at the same time, we believe that it is a mistake to lift these mandates too soon.
Masks are saving many lives.
I really hope that the businesses, the community and the people of Texas, the mayors, the counties, will reconsider.
I hope the governor reconsiders.
Hopefully the states stay with this until we finish vaccination and move on to the other side.
Medical experts have described the premature openings as absurd at a time when there are signs that infections may be about to rise again from already high levels and vaccines indicate that the end may even be in sight.
Easing the restrictions is almost certain to mean the deaths of people who could have been alive in just a few months when the vaccines reach mass distribution.
"It's just irresponsible," Dr. Leana Wen, former Baltimore health commissioner, said on CNN's "The Situation Room."
"It could tear down all the amazing work we've done so far," Wen said.
He added that the mask-wearing mandates would allow schools to reopen and businesses to recover, and are a path to freedom, not infringement.
'They are no longer necessary'
Abbott said it was about time Texans were trusted to take their own precautions to stop COVID-19 and that government intervention was not necessary.
"Make no mistake, the covid-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear that because of the recoveries, vaccinations, reduction of hospitalizations and safe practices that Texans use, state mandates are no longer necessary," he said.
"With this decree, we ensure that all Texas businesses and families have the freedom to determine their own destiny."
But the idea that vaccines have changed the game is already undermined by the fact that only 6.5% of Texans have been fully vaccinated, well below the number needed to ensure herd immunity and stop the spread. of the virus.
In Mississippi, only 7.4% of residents have been fully vaccinated, according to figures calculated by CNN.
Many local officials in Texas reacted negatively to Abbott's announcement.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, a Democrat, accused the governor of trying to distract from his failures during a winter storm in the state last week that caused the suspension of much of the power grid.
“You need to focus on what doctors, facts, and science say is safe;
not what the governor says is legal! ”Jenkins wrote on Twitter.
Judge Ricardo Samaniego, an El Paso County Democrat who has been struck by COVID-19, said his authorities had 280 bodies in county detention facilities and warned that Abbott's directive was equivalent to removing the requirement. wearing seat belts.
"Our community would have appreciated your condolences to the families who have lost loved ones, and public health would have appreciated if you had focused on the dangers of a new variant of the virus that is rapidly emerging," Samaniego tweeted.
Science versus politics
The clash between Washington and several states shows that the duel between science and politics did not end when Trump left the White House.
Many conservatives have resisted scientific advice to keep nonessential businesses closed on the grounds that they constitute an unacceptable violation of basic rights.
Others have questioned the science and called leaders like Biden desperate to keep Americans locked up to exercise their own liberal powers, although it seems likely that the president will get a political dividend if he is able to conquer the virus.
There is no question of the savage economic and social costs of lockdowns, business closures, and restrictions.
Tens of millions of Americans are suffering financially, have been trapped at home for months and separated from their families.
A generation of school children is paying a terrible price for the virus.
The country is desperate to get back to something close to normal.
Biden argued Tuesday that such deprivation is one of the reasons Congress should swiftly pass its $ 1.9 trillion covid bailout package, which contains extended unemployment benefits, small business aid and cash to open schools, and seeks to rapidly expand the infrastructure to deliver vaccines.
The bill did not garner a Republican vote when it passed the House of Representatives last week and it may be necessary for Vice President Kamala Harris to cast a decisive tiebreaker vote for the measure to pass the Senate in the next few days.