Despite CDC director Rochelle Walensky’s recent warnings against loosening COVID-19 restrictions, governors throughout the country have begun rolling back COVID-19 restrictions — but have demonstrated different approaches in doing so.
Last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) ended mask mandates and permitted businesses to reopen at full capacity — moves that President Biden decried as “Neanderthal thinking.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical adviser, echoed Walensky’s warning against drastically easing up on COVID-19 restrictions during an interview on CBS on Sunday. Fauci stressed that infection rates plateauing at 60,000 to 70,000 per day nationwide is still “quite high” and far from an acceptable level.
“So the message we’re saying is that we do want to come back carefully and slowly about pulling back on mitigation methods,” Fauci said. “But don’t turn that switch on and off because it really would be risky to have yet again another surge, which we do not want to happen because we’re plateauing at quite a high level.”
While Abbott and Reeves have gone to the extremes of full re-openings and eliminating mask mandates, some governors have taken a more gradual approach to loosening COVID-19 restrictions. Here’s how governors on both sides of the aisle defended their rationale behind rolling back certain COVID-19 restrictions on Sunday:
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R)
After pointing to significant declines in his state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations, Reeves managed to throw Biden under the bus during an interview on CNN. Reeves accused the President of insulting the public with his “Neanderthal thinking” remark criticizing governors who have loosened coronavirus restrictions in their states.
“Unlike President Biden, who wants to insult Americans and insult Mississippians, I actually trust Mississippians to make good decisions,” Reeves said, before claiming that residents in his state have “proven” that they adhere to mitigation measures. “The fact is, the numbers don’t justify government interaction at the levels that we’re seeing in other states.”
However, despite eliminating his state’s mask mandate, Reeves urged Mississippians, who are not fully vaccinated, to continue practicing mask-wearing.
“I don’t only recommend it, I encourage it,” Reeves said. “If you have not received the vaccination, and you are going into a large crowd, or if you’re going out to dinner, I strongly encourage Mississippians and people across the country to wear a mask, because I believe that it does, in fact, reduce the ability of individuals to spread the virus.”
Later in the interview, Reeves repeatedly declined to give a straightforward answer declaring that Biden was “legitimately and lawfully elected.”
"We have to get our economy rolling so that individuals can get back to work," Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves defends decision to lift mask mandates. "Unlike Pres. Biden who wants to insult Americans and insult Mississippians, I actually trust Mississippians to make good decisions" pic.twitter.com/nr075ayLVo
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) March 7, 2021
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R)
Although West Virginia began lifting restrictions and opening businesses at full capacity, the state kept its mask mandate in place. Last week, Justice characterized some governors’ decisions to lift mask mandates as just kind of a “macho thing.”
Justice offered a metaphor centered around robins in explaining his decision to keep the state’s mask mandate in place amid lifting other COVID-19 restrictions.
“I have a saying, you know, one, robin doesn’t make spring,” Justice said. “And, you know, when the first robins start coming back, if you just react and run out, oh, you know, it’s wonderful, it’s spring, it’s spring, you’re about to get hit by a winter storm and absolutely get your butt handed to you.”
Justice argued that when it comes to mask wearing, states throughout the country need to be “a little more cautious” as he reiterated that no one is fond of mask-wearing.
“But for crying out loud, if we could be a little more prudent for 30 more days or 45 more days or whatever it took for us to get on rock-solid ground, that’s the approach West Virginia is going to take, and that’s the approach that I think it should take,” Justice said.
West Virginia Governor @JimJusticeWV on other states lifting mask mandates during COVID-19
“For crying out loud, if you could be a little more prudent…for us to get on rock solid ground, that’s the approach West Virginia’s going to take." pic.twitter.com/G0BzkOJLED
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) March 7, 2021
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D)
Whitmer, who was targeted last year by armed protesters that flocked to the Michigan state Capitol to protest her COVID-19 restrictions, praised CDC director Rochelle Walensky before arguing on CNN that the increase in restaurant capacity from 25 percent to 50 percent isn’t comparable to some states ending mask mandates altogether.
“It’s just not a fair comparison,” Whitmer said. “We’re kind of at the 10-yard line, and we’re taking another 10 yards ahead, where some are at the 50 and dropping the mask mandate. And that’s the dangerous situation.”
Whitmer cited Michigan’s low rate of infections and high rates of vaccination in saying that rolling back restrictions can be done responsibly.
“But there’s no question we’re going to keep tethered to the science and watching the numbers to keep people safe,” Whitmer said.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: "To liken moving restaurant capacity from 25% to 50%, to what some states are doing dropping mask mandates altogether, it's just not a fair comparison." https://t.co/0BUOq3Xf9Q pic.twitter.com/fylUH6jmXt
— The Hill (@thehill) March 7, 2021
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R)
Hutchinson lifted most of the safety restrictions placed on businesses in Arkansas on Friday.
During an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Hutchinson said that compared to abrupt rollbacks of mask mandates in Texas and Mississippi, he is taking a gradual approach to mask-wearing by requiring residents to adhere to the mitigation measure in public through at least the end of the month.
“I wanted to set a goal and give people hope that we can end the mask mandate if we get to this place where we feel more comfortable that our hospitalizations are still down,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson added that he “wanted an off-ramp,” not a “cliff” when it comes to mask mandates.
Like Reeves, Hutchinson also took offense to Biden’s “Neanderthal thinking” swipe at Republican governors in Texas and Mississippi for eliminating COVID-19 restrictions, which includes lifting mask mandates altogether. Hutchinson accused Biden of trying to deprive Americans of their “freedom.”
“I don’t think it’s fair to say it’s Neanderthal-type thinking,” Hutchinson said.” “It’s pretty natural to have a sensitivity to freedom-loving Americans that say we’ll do the right thing. We know what to do. Just give us our freedom back and lift some of our mandates. That’s not caveman thinking, that’s common sense.”