More states are deciding to ease coronavirus restrictions despite health officials’ warnings not to do just that—as it may lead to a deadly fourth wave of the ongoing pandemic.
The governors of Texas and Mississippi both announced Tuesday that they are lifting face mask mandates and allowing businesses to reopen at full capacity even as the decline in daily coronavirus cases has leveled off.
“Removing statewide mandates does not end personal responsibility,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a media briefing. “It’s just that now state mandates are no longer needed. It is now time to open Texas 100 percent.”
Meanwhile, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced during a separate news briefing that he is ending all countywide mask mandates and removing statewide restrictions on nearly all businesses.
“I am replacing our current orders with recommendations,” he said. “The only rules that will remain in this order are a capacity limit of 50 percent on indoor arenas and those that govern K-12 schools.”
Both governors cited the declining number of new coronavirus cases and the increasing availability of vaccines as reasons for ending the restrictions.
Health officials, however, have been warning that new cases could already be ticking upward again, and that the emergence of new coronavirus variants seen across the country could lead to a devastating resurgence.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a recent media briefing that she is “really worried” about some states rolling back public health measures as new cases appear to be leveling off at a “very high number.”
“Seventy thousand cases a day seems good compared to where we were just a few months ago,” she said. “Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained.”
The United States peaked at more than three hundred thousand cases per day in early January following the winter holidays.
Further giving confidence to governors to relax restrictions is President Joe Biden’s announcement that the United States will have enough vaccine supply to cover all adults by the end of May, which is significantly sooner than his previous stated timeline of July. That was likely made possible because of the third vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson, which received emergency use approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this past weekend.
The president also announced that he is directing states to prioritize vaccinating teachers, child-care workers, and school staff through his administration’s partnership with pharmacies.
According to the latest data compiled by the CDC, about fifty-two million Americans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, while twenty-six million have received two doses.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.