Biden Officials Urge People to Continue Wearing Masks as Texas, Mississippi Lift Mandates

The Biden administration is urging people to continue wearing masks and observing other COVID-19 prevention measures, even as some states move toward loosening—or all together ending—restrictions that were put in place to slow the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

"Every individual is empowered to do the right thing here, regardless of what the states decide," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters Wednesday. "The next month or two is really pivotal in terms of how this pandemic goes."

Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, both Republicans, announced this week that they are opening businesses back to 100 percent capacity and ending mandates requiring people to wear masks in public.

"With this executive order, we are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny," Abbott wrote on Twitter Tuesday. "Today's announcement doesn't abandon safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year. Instead, it's a reminder that each person has a role to play in their own personal safety & the safety of others."

"Our hospitalizations and case numbers have plummeted, and the vaccine is being rapidly distributed," Reeves tweeted with the announcement. "It is time!"

More states are expected to follow in relaxing their COVID-19 efforts, as cases and hospitalizations have started to decrease and wide-scale vaccinations ramp up.

President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that the administration expects enough vaccine doses for every adult in the United States by the end of May.

But Walensky said that is one of the reasons that certain guidelines should still be followed.

"We've been very clear that now is not the time to release all restrictions," she said. "We need to decrease the amount of virus that is circulating as we're trying to vaccinate all of the public."

Shortly after taking office, Biden issued an executive order requiring people to wear masks on federal properties, in airports, and in mass modes of transportation, including airplanes and trains.

"I don't think you could be possibly any clearer about the need for masks," Andy Slavitt, a senior White House advisor on the COVID-19 response, told reporters. "We are using the absolute full extent of all areas where we have federal control."

The White House health officials hold weekly virtual meetings with governors to update them on the latest COVID-19 figures and guidance.

"We are actively, actively being very, very clear on what we think needs to happen," Slavitt said. "We hope other elected officials will, in fact, listen—we're realistic enough to recognize everyone's not going to pay attention to everything we say."

Texas masks
Masks are advertised near a hand washing station on November 18, 2020 in El Paso, Texas. Mario Tama/Getty