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A senior adviser on Joe Biden’s coronavirus response team scolded Republican governors who have been lifting mask mandates and other social distancing guidelines as thousands of Americans per day continue dying.
“The governors know better. I think the governors know that they're not helping the cause, that they're actually weighing down the cause,” the aide, Andy Slavitt, said in an interview with CNN on Tuesday.
More than a quarter of the US population has now been vaccinated against Covid, and deaths from the virus had been trending downwards since record death totals from January through mid-February.
The Republican governors of Texas and Mississippi have let their mask mandates expire, and other GOP-run states such as Indiana have begun easing restrictions as well.
But the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has continued to issue public guidance urging Americans to wear masks when they are around other people to protect themselves and others.
“To me, [wearing] a mask feels like a very small price to pay to to protect people's lives, to save people's lives,” Mr Slavitt said on Tuesday.
“We're seeing death rates go up even with more vaccinations because we have millions and millions of people that haven't yet been vaccinated,” he said, noting that Covid cases have been climbing yet again.
Since becoming president, Mr Biden has warned that Americans must “remain vigilant” against Covid and not let their guards down until the pandemic is fully under control.
The president told reporters on Monday he believed state and local leaders should keep guidelines in place for the foreseeable future.
“I call on every governor, mayor, and local leader to maintain and reinstate the mask mandate. Please, this is not politics. Reinstate the mandate if you let it down,” Mr Biden said.
Earlier this month Mr Biden went after Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves and Texas Governor Greg Abbott for lifting their states’ mask mandates and re-opening businesses such as restaurants and retailers at full capacity.
“The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that, in the meantime, everything’s fine, take off your mask and forget it,” Mr Biden said of the GOP governors.
But some cities are fighting back. Austin, Texas’ capital, has defied a recent attempt from Mr Abbott to ban all cities in his state from requiring masks.
“Every day that we can keep the local health authority mask mandate in place is a victory,” the city’s mayor, Steve Adler, told The Texas Tribune recently.
“The fact that we were able to keep it in place for the last two weeks, during spring break, is a victory, for however long it lasts,” he said.