Biden on Wednesday sharply criticized the decisions by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) one day earlier to lift coronavirus restrictions in their states, calling the moves “a big mistake.”
“Look, I hope everybody’s realized by now these masks make a difference,” Biden told reporters at the White House Wednesday afternoon ahead of a meeting on combating cancer. “We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we’re able to get vaccines in people’s arms. … The last thing, the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking — that, ‘In the meantime, everything’s fine. Take off your mask. Forget it.’ It still matters.”
Biden added that it is “critical, critical, critical” that state leaders “follow the science” and that Americans continue to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines.
“I know you all know that,” he told reporters. “I wish the heck some of our elected officials would.”
On Tuesday, Abbott ended his state’s mask mandate and boasted in all-caps on Twitter that “Texas is OPEN 100%. EVERYTHING.” Reeves announced similar plans.
With both Texas and Mississippi still in the top 10 deaths per capita among U.S. states, health officials have warned that easing restrictions before vaccines have been widely distributed could cause another spike in cases and deaths.
An Abbott spokesman responded by asserting in a statement that the governor was “clear in telling Texans that COVID hasn’t ended, and that all Texans should follow medical advice and safe practices to continue containing COVID.” But the spokesman added that it was also clear that “state mandates are no longer needed.”
Ahead of Biden’s remarks to reporters, White House press secretary Jen Psaki urged Americans to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing, even as the governors of Texas and Mississippi have lifted the restrictions in their states.
“We need to remain vigilant,” Psaki said at a daily press briefing. “And [Biden] believes that — and he’s hopeful that — people in these states will continue to follow the guidelines that have been set out and the recommendations made by health and medical experts.”
Asked whether Biden plans to speak with Abbott and Reeves to ask them to reconsider their moves, Psaki said only that the president “speaks with governors of both parties on a regular basis.”
“He obviously traveled with the governor [of Texas] last Friday, and I’m sure he will raise this the next opportunity he has,” Psaki said.
Katie Shepherd contributed to this report.