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Leaders and businesses say masks are essential protection as Texas and Mississippi lift Covid-19 restrictions

Leaders and businesses across the US are pushing back against states lifting mask mandates by doubling down on their commitment to enforcing Covid-19 precautions as variants continue to cause concern.

This week, Texas and Mississippi joined the list of states expanding business capacity and lifting the mandates for residents to wear masks. A representative for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said that the mandates were no longer necessary, but a restoration of livelihoods and normalcy was urgent.

Though the rates of infections, hospitalizations and deaths have decreased in many states since January, tens of thousands of Americans are still being infected daily, and more transmissible variants have been spreading — threatening another surge.

For that reason, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear asked residents to stick the course.

“Please continue to wear a mask — what some other states are doing is reckless,” he said. “We’ve seen them do it before — they paid the price.”

And in Texas, many businesses are still encouraging mask usage. The grocery store chain H-E-B said Thursday that employees will still be required and guests will be asked to wear masks.

The Texas Restaurant Association also will continue to encourage mask use, as well as regular cleanings and health screenings, the association said in a release.

“It’s only by working together as operators, employees, customers, and Texans that we can finally turn the page and rebuild out of this pandemic,” its statement said.

In Mississippi, Greenville Mayor Errick D. Simmons told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that Gov. Tate Reeves’ decision to loosen restrictions was “premature and reckless.”

“We are at a crucial moment in the fight against this disease and the path is unclear,” Simmons explained. “We cannot relax. We cannot loosen restrictions. We cannot lift mask mandates. We cannot let our guards down.”

When Fauci says the US can pull back restrictions

Dr. Anthony Fauci said the decision by some states to do away with mask mandates and allowing businesses to open at full capacity was “inexplicable.”

The US shouldn’t ease restrictions in place to prevent Covid-19 before the number of new coronavirus cases falls below 10,000 daily, “and maybe even considerably less than that,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said Thursday.

The last time the US saw fewer than 10,000 new daily cases was almost a year ago, on March 22, 2020. The number hasn’t fallen below 50,000 daily cases since mid-October, and the seven-day average on Wednesday was more than 64,000.

“We will be pulling back,” Fauci predicted. “We’re now up to about 2 million vaccinations per day. That means every day that goes by, every week that goes by, you have more and more people protected.”

Concrete steps to make vaccines more equitable

As the US races to vaccinate as many Americans as possible, those doses have not been distributed equally.

But using community health centers, pharmacies and mobile vaccine units, Fauci said the US is taking concrete steps to address the inequity.

The US has implemented “community vaccine centers, about 440 of them, with a clear recognition that we’ve got to put them, geographically, into those areas where the demography is heavily weighted toward minority populations,” Fauci said, “You can’t have it in places that are completely inaccessible.”

Some minority populations “are in situations where they’re in deserts… pharmacy deserts, food store deserts, healthcare deserts,” Fauci noted. “They don’t have a car to get to where they need to be. They don’t have a computer to sign up for something.”

One solution is using mobile vaccine units to get the vaccine to people living in relatively inaccessible areas, Fauci said.

“Bottom line is, it’s a really high priority that we put equity into the implementation of these programs — whether it be vaccines, whether it be health care, whether it be treatments when they become available,” Fauci said, “It’s got to be done in an equitable manner.”

Push to vaccinate teachers and reopen schools

Many states are putting a priority on vaccinating teachers and school staff to safely reopen campuses as soon as possible.

There are now 38 states as well as Washington, DC that allow teachers to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. And two more may soon be added to the list.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said that those who work in education and childcare will be among the 300,000 to 400,000 new residents who will be eligible for the vaccine next week.

And state officials in Rhode Island will likely announce a plan next week to “get shots in the arm of all teachers and school staff,” Gov. Daniel McKee said.

But even with those efforts underway, it is important for school officials to familiarize themselves with school opening guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, director Rochelle Walensky said. It could mean repurposing rooms with more space or moving out classroom furniture so students can be spread out, she said.

“I think Covid is going to be with us for a while, maybe not exactly in the way that we’ve seen it for this past year, but we are going to have to make some changes in our day to day in the months ahead, and it’s so very important to get our children back to school,” Walensky said. “So lean into the guidance and take those steps.”

Article Topic Follows: Health

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