US President Joe Biden has slammed the Republican governors of two states, Texas and Mississippi, for rescinding their mask mandates and fully reopening their economies with the end of the coronavirus pandemic still months away.

"I think it's a big mistake," Mr Biden told reporters in the Oval Office today.

"Look, I hope everyone has realised by now, these masks make a difference. 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.

"We've been able to move that all the way up to the end of May, to have enough for every adult American to get a shot.

"The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that, in the meantime, everything's fine, take off your mask, forget it. It still matters.

"As of yesterday we'd lost 511,874 Americans. We're going to lose thousands more. We won't have everyone vaccinated until sometime in the summer.

"It's critical, critical, critical, critical, that they follow the science. Wash your hands with hot water, do it frequently. Wear a mask and stay social distanced.

"I know you all know that. I wish the heck some of our elected officials knew it."

Yesterday, Governor Greg Abbott said it was "time to open Texas 100 per cent".

He issued an executive order which ended the statewide mask mandate. In addition, businesses will be allowed to open to full capacity as of next Wednesday. They are still allowed to limit capacity or impose safety rules at their own discretion.

"With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus," Mr Abbott said.

"Make no mistake, COVID-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalisations and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed.

"Today's announcement does not abandon safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year. Instead, it is a reminder that each person has a role to play in their own personal safety and the safety of others.

"With this executive order, we are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny."

Texas currently has 171,000 active cases of the virus, and is adding about 3000 new infections per day. Its death toll stands at 44,700.

Shortly after Mr Abbott's announcement, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves followed suit with an executive order of his own.

"Today I signed what I expect will be one of my last executive orders regarding COVID-19," Mr Reeves said.

"Our hospitalisations have plummeted, and our case numbers have fallen dramatically as well. In fact, our case numbers have fallen to the point where no county meets the original criteria for a mask mandate.

"I am replacing our current orders with recommendations."

He said Mississippi residents were "encouraged but not ordered" to wear face masks and practise social distancing.

There are currently 10,800 active cases in the state, with about 400 being added each day.

 

Both governors' decisions came the day after the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention warned states against relaxing their guidelines, saying doing so could lead to a fourth wave of infections.

"We hope that elected officials who have the authority in their domains will, in fact, listen," said senior White House COVID adviser Andy Slavitt.

A reporter asked Press Secretary Jen Psaki about Texas and Mississippi during today's media briefing.

"They have now, in both of those states, removed their mask mandates and they are reopening at 100 per cent, even as this White House says now is not the time for that. How do you characterise those decisions, and what do you say to the governors?" the reporter asked.

"The President's position on mask wearing is based on the recommendations of health and medical experts, and their views that it could save 50,000 lives. That is why he asked the American people to wear masks," Ms Psaki responded.

"For nearly a year, we've been coping with this pandemic across the country. And this entire country has paid the price for political leaders who've ignored the science when it comes to the pandemic.

"There's still more work that needs to be done. We need to remain vigilant. He believes, and he's hopeful, that people in these states will continue to follow the guidelines that have been set out by health and medical experts."

Originally published as 'It's a big mistake': Biden lashes out


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