THE GUARDIAN (UK) – The top infectious disease expert in the US, Dr Anthony Fauci, has warned it is too early to end Covid-19 restrictions, despite Texas and Mississippi having lifted mask mandates and business capacity limits this week.
States are easing restrictions after a drop in cases, though that decline is starting to plateau at a high rate of 60,000 to 70,000 infections per day.
“We’re going in the right direction but we just need to hang on a bit longer,” Fauci said on Sunday, to CBS’s Face the Nation.
Public health experts have warned that the US could undermine vaccine-related progress and allow for thousands of preventable deaths by lifting restrictions at the first sign of improvements.
More than 524,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the US and January was its deadliest month of the pandemic so far.
Fauci, chief medical adviser to Joe Biden, said turning restrictions “on and off” risked another surge.
“This is not going to be indefinite. We need to gradually pull back as we get people vaccinated,” he said.
Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist who advised Biden’s transition team, warned the US was still “in the eye of the hurricane”.
Osterholm told NBC’s Meet the Press the situation appeared to be improving, but said he was concerned the B117 variant, which is 50% more infectious than other variants in the US, could create a new surge.
Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said:
“We do have to keep America as safe as we can from this virus by not letting up on any of the public health measures we’ve taken and we need to get people vaccinated as quickly as we can” …
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These states – mostly Red – are rolling back Covid restrictions, including mask mandates and indoor capacity caps
Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and West Virginia all moved to end statewide pandemic restrictions like mask mandates and indoor capacity caps.
Updated March 8, 2021
By Tim Fitzsimons and The Associated Press
In the first week of March, governors in Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Arizona, West Virginia and Connecticut announced significant loosening of statewide pandemic restrictions like mask mandates and indoor capacity limits.
These states joined several others in loosening statewide coronavirus restrictions in early 2021.
In 2020, some states, like Georgia and Alaska, chose never to implement statewide mask mandates. Last September, Florida became one the largest states to roll back Covid capacity restrictions when Gov. Ron DeSantis reopened bars and restaurants to full capacity.
On March 5, the number of Covid-19 cases in the United States since the start of the pandemic crossed 29 million, according to an NBC News’ count. More than 524,000 people have died across the U.S.
NBC News is keeping tabs on these developments. Check back again for updates.
Alabama: On Thursday, Gov. Kay Ivey extended Alabama’s statewide mask mandate, in effect since July 2020, but said it would expire April 9, 2021. The Republican governor also cautioned against hasty moves toward reopening.
“We need to get past Easter,” Ivey said, adding that Alabama would not follow other states and immediately end restrictions without allowing more time for “more Alabamians to get their first shot.”
“Folks, we are not there yet, but goodness knows we’re getting closer,” Ivey said.
Arizona: Republican Gov. Steve Ducey issued an executive order on March 5 ending indoor capacity restrictions at state venues including “restaurants, gyms, theaters, water parks, bowling alleys, and bars providing dine in services.”
The Grand Canyon State never had a statewide mask mandate: “We always knew that fighting this virus would be dependent on the personal responsibility of everyday Arizonans,” Ducey said in a press release.
Arkansas: In February, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the end of most indoor capacity restrictions, but extended the statewide mask mandate through March 31. The state’s mask mandate will end on that date if test positivity and hospitalization rates are below certain thresholds, Hutchinson said.
Connecticut: Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont announced that the state would lift indoor capacity restrictions at dining establishments, libraries, museums, gyms, retail, offices, and houses of worship on March 19, according to NBC News Connecticut.
“Most importantly, we are keeping the mask mandate,” Lamont said at a press conference March 4. “It’s probably the most important thing you can do.”
“This is not Texas, this is not Mississippi, this is Connecticut,” Lamont said. “We have much lower infections than those mask-less states, much lower, and we are going to keep going with what works.”
However, with social distancing and cleaning protocols still in effect, the Hartford Courant reports many restaurants will not be able to seat the same number of guests as they could before the pandemic, and bars will remain closed.
Iowa: The state’s mask mandate, first issued in November 2020, was ended in early February by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds.
Mississippi: Republican Gov. Tate Reeves announced the end of Mississippi’s statewide mask mandate on March 2.
“Our hospitalizations and case numbers have plummeted, and the vaccine is being rapidly distributed,” Reeves tweeted. “It is time!”
Montana: Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte announced the end of Montana’s statewide mask mandate on Feb. 12, though several local jurisdictions have kept them in place.
Prior to rescinding the order, Gianforte criticized a Biden administration mandate to wear masks on federal land as making “as much sense as hugging a grizzly.”
The state’s mask mandate was first enacted in July 2020 by Gianforte’s Democratic predecessor, former Gov. Steve Bullock.
North Dakota: The state first enacted a mask mandate in November, which was extended once before it expired in January 2021.
South Carolina: The Palmetto State never had a statewide mask mandate, but on March 5 Republican Gov. Henry McMaster ended mandatory requirements that they be worn in state government buildings and restaurants.
The executive order still recommends that face coverings be worn in restaurants and anywhere people can’t stay 6 feet apart. It will be up to administrative officials and restaurant operators to develop their own Covid-19 guidelines.
McMaster at a vaccine event said “this is getting better every day,” hospitalization and death numbers have improved, and anyone 55 or older will be eligible for the vaccine Monday. The South Carolina Senate Democratic Caucus called it reckless as the virus continues to sicken and kill, and said it was done “to score political points.”
Texas: The Lone Star State’s mask mandate came into effect in July and will end on March 10, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott announced at a press conference on March 2.
“It is now time to open Texas 100 percent,” Abbott said.
Abbott said that “too many Texans were sidelined from employment opportunities” while businesses operate at reduced capacity because of coronavirus restrictions.
Shortly after, President Joe Biden criticized Texas’ move as “Neanderthal thinking.”
West Virginia: Republican Gov. Jim Justice announced on March 5 that bars and restaurants will be able to operate at 100 percent seating capacity as of March 6, though some restrictions on standing room congregation remain in effect, according to NBC News affiliate WVVA.
1“We absolutely expect you to continue to wear your mask,” Justice said. “We are not backing off of our mask mandate at this time.”
“I can’t stand these masks myself, I get that and everything, none of us can,” Justice said. But he warned that seeing “one robin” fly by does not mean winter is over.
“Let’s just don’t get too anxious to lift everything away and then get some level of whiplash that really hurts us,” Justice said.
Wyoming: Republican Gov. Mark Gordon announced on March 8 that the state would repeal its statewide mask mandate and “allow bars, restaurants, theaters and gyms to resume normal operations on March 16,” according to a press release.
Gordon said that face masks will remain mandatory inside of the state’s schools and encouraged residents “to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces and to follow the best practices adopted by any business they visit to slow the spread of the virus.”