President Joe Biden on Monday raised concerns about rising COVID-19 cases and called on state governors to reinstate mask mandates, saying it is the "patriotic duty" of each American to continue to wear a mask.
The president appeared to place blame for rising coronavirus cases on states like Texas and Mississippi that have relaxed coronavirus restrictions and ended statewide mask mandates in recent weeks. That assertion is not supported by evidence, which shows the rate of positive COVID-19 cases falling in those states even after ending mask mandates. The largest increases in positive virus cases comes from states that never removed mask mandates.
"I'm reiterating my call for 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," Biden said during a White House update on additional efforts to expand COVID-19 vaccine distribution nationwide.
"The failure to take this virus seriously is precisely what got us into this mess in the first place — risks more cases and more deaths," he added.
Biden issued his appeal to state and local officials after Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rachel Walensky told reporters she has a sense of "impending doom" because of rising confirmed cases of COVID-19.
"The CDC expressed earlier today this is not a time to lessen our efforts," Biden said. "We could still see a setback in the vaccination program and most importantly, if we let our guard down now we could see the virus getting worse, not better."
The president warned that new variants and a recent increase in positive coronavirus cases nationwide could lead to more deaths if Americans engage in "reckless behavior" by ignoring CDC recommendations on sanitation, social distancing, and mask-wearing.
"People are letting up on precautions, which is a very bad thing," Biden said.
According to the most recent daily report from the White House COVID-19 team, more than 420,000 people tested positive for COVID-19 between March 21 and March 27 — an 11% increase in positive cases from the week prior and an average of about 60,000 new cases each day. Though this is well below the all-time high of 250,000 new daily coronavirus cases recorded last January, health experts advising the president are concerned that a fourth surge in coronavirus infections may be imminent as several states remove restrictions and end mask mandates.
"Cases have fallen two-thirds since I took office. Deaths have also fallen two-thirds. But now cases are going back up and in some states deaths are as well," said Biden. "We're giving up hard-fought, hard-won gains. And as much as we're doing, America, it's time to do even more. All of us have to do our part, every one of us."
It is not clear at all that lifting COVID-19 restrictions is leading to increases in positive COVID-19 cases.
Texas, for example, ended its statewide mask mandate on March 10 and lifted restrictions on businesses in a move that Biden criticized as "neanderthal thinking." Over the past two weeks however, the rate of positive cases in Texas has fallen by 17% and deaths have fallen by 34%, according to the New York Times.
In Mississippi, which lifted its mask mandate on March 2, positive cases have fallen by 44% over the past two weeks and deaths have fallen by 52%.
Results are mixed elsewhere. In Iowa, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming (states that ended mask mandates) positive rates of COVID-19 cases have increased over the last two weeks. But death rates have fallen by 41% in Iowa, 33% in North Dakota, and 78% in Wyoming over the same period of time. The only state currently without a mask mandate that saw an increase in cases and deaths over the last two weeks is Montana, which ended its mandate on March 8.
The states experiencing the largest percentage increases in confirmed COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks are Michigan (133% increase), Connecticut (62% increase), Minnesota (47% increase), Pennsylvania (45% increase) and New York (42% increase), all of which have mask mandates currently in effect.
Nationwide, cases have increased by 15% but virus deaths have fallen 29% and hospitalizations have decreased 6% as vaccine distribution progresses.
The president announced that 33 million vaccine doses will be available this week and that the nation is on track to have at least 75% of American senior citizens receive their first vaccine shot by the week's end.
In a previous executive action, Biden directed state governments to open up vaccine eligibility for all adults no later than May 1. He praised state governors, both Republicans and Democrats, who have taken action to open up vaccine eligibility sooner than that deadline because of increases in vaccine supply.
Going forward, Biden announced that his COVID-19 team will take action to ensure there is a vaccination site within 5 miles of 90% of all Americans by April 19. He plans to have 40,000 pharmacies be made available to provide vaccine shots and he will create 12 more federally run mass vaccination sites to speed up vaccine distribution. The Department of Health and Human Services will also be enlisted to provide transportation to senior citizens and vulnerable individuals who lack the means to travel to their vaccine appointments.
"I'm taking these steps to make our American turn around story, our vaccination program, move even faster," Biden said.
If all goes according to plan, Biden predicted that at least 90% of all American adults will be eligible to be vaccinated by April 19 and the remaining 10% should be vaccinated by May 1. Accomplishing this goal would mean that Americans may have a "normal" 4th of July celebration, the president said.
While the nation waits for vaccines to become available, Biden said every American has a "patriotic duty" to continue to practice social distancing and wear masks.
"As I do my part to accelerate the vaccine distribution of vaccinations I need the American people to do their part as well," Biden said. "Mask up, mask up! It's a patriotic duty. It's the only way we ever get back to normal."
He noted that nearly 1,000 Americans die of COVID-19 each day and almost 550,000 people have died since the beginning of the pandemic.
"Until this country is vaccinated each of us has to do our part. We have an obligation, a patriotic obligation. Wash your hands. Stay socially distanced. Wear a mask as recommended by the CDC. And get vaccinated, get your friends and family vaccinated when you can help," Biden said.
"Now is not the time to let down. Now is not the time to celebrate. It is time to do what we do best as a country, our duty, our jobs. Take care of one another and fight this to the finish. We can and we will do this, but don't let up now."