On Thursday, Mar. 4, MSNBC Live host Stephanie Ruhle asked former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Dr. Tom Frieden if states like Texas and Mississippi should be punished for reopening their economies and giving people the freedom to choose whether or not to wear a face mask.
“Tom … when states like Texas and Mississippi – that are in the bottom ten as far as vaccinations go – when they go against CDC guidance and open up, should they face consequences?” asked Ruhle. “For example, should they get access to, let’s say, emergency federal help if they end up with a spike in cases or hospitalizations down the road?”
Ruhle referred to Frieden as “someone who is definitely not a ‘Neanderthal thinker,'” a reference to President Joe Biden’s comment that rolling back mask mandates was “Neanderthal thinking.”
Frieden answered by saying the thinking behind stopping statewide mask mandates was “an insult to Neanderthals.”
“We know that mask mandates work and we know that variants [of the coronavirus] are a very real risk,” said Frieden. “We have explosive spread in Brazil, in a community that already had explosive spread once. So, to suggest that it’s not like something that’s going to come through and be gone, it’s possible that it comes back.”
Frieden immediately pivoted from this supposedly bad news of “very high levels of spread” by talking about the United States’ coronavirus vaccine rollout.
“On the other hand, we do really have a lot of good news, and bottom line: Hang in there. Vaccines are becoming more available, vaccines are working. And we’re seeing dramatic decreases in deaths, in nursing homes and elsewhere. So … we’re going to get to a new normal, but masks are going [to be] part of our lives for a while. It’s a small thing to do that could save someone’s life. Even with the vaccines, [the coronavirus] remains a potentially deadly disease.”
More states and local governments reopening economies and rescinding mask mandates
In recent weeks, many states and cities have announced either the easing coronavirus-related restrictions or waiving their mask mandates, although the details of each announcement have varied.
Texas, Mississippi, Michigan and Louisiana, along with the Democrat-leaning cities of San Francisco and Chicago, all made announcements opening up their economies on Tuesday, March 2.
Meanwhile, Texas, North Dakota, Montana, Mississippi and Iowa have waived their mask mandates. These states join South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, which have either not had statewide mask mandates or have refused to enforce them.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, issued an executive order that ended every single coronavirus-related restriction on economic activity. He announced that “Texas is open 100 percent,” and said that states should stop telling people and businesses how they are supposed to operate.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, lifted almost every single COVID-19 restriction on businesses. The exceptions are one that caps on the number of people that are allowed to be in indoor arenas to 50 percent of the venue’s capacity, as well as certain restrictions for schools. He also rescinded state-wide and county-specific mask mandates.
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte lifted the statewide mask mandate back in early February. Montana’s mask order was put in place by Gianforte’s predecessor, the Republican former Gov. Steve Bullock.
In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds lifted the state’s restrictions back in early February as well. This allowed businesses to have as many occupants as they want, provided that social distancing guidelines are followed to the best of their abilities. While some mask-related restrictions remain in place, state residents are no longer required to wear face coverings in public.
San Francisco and Chicago have similarly relaxed their economic restrictions. In San Francisco, Mayor London Breed reopened restaurants and bars, gyms, museums and movie theaters at limited capacity. In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot allowed sports, performance and hospitality venues to increase capacity up to 50 percent, up from the previous 40 percent.
Learn more about the recent lifting of economic restrictions and mask mandates across the United States by reading the latest articles at Pandemic.news.