Some Republican state leaders denounced guidance issued Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that fully vaccinated Americans should don masks to combat soaring coronavirus infection rates, with several governors ruling out mask mandates in their states, continuing a long-running narrative pitting public health measures against individual liberties.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who signed an executive order banning mask mandates in May, tweeted that “the time for government mask mandates is over,” emphasizing that every Texan has the “right to choose whether they (or their children) will wear a mask.”
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts ruled out a new mandate and said the state’s “return to normal won’t be interrupted by” the guidance, which he said “flies in the face of the public health goals that should guide the agency’s decision making” and “only furthers the distrust” many have in the agency.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds slammed the guidance as “counterproductive to our vaccination efforts” and “not grounded in reality or common sense.”
Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona—which has prohibited mandates for masks, vaccines and vaccine passports—said the guidance is “just another example of the Biden-Harris administration’s inability to effectively confront the COVID-19 pandemic” that will “only diminish confidence in the vaccine.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis rejected the idea of mask mandates in schools after the announcement and issued a statement pointing to concerns about safety, saying he “trusts parents to… make the best choices for their kids.”
In the last two weeks, new cases of Covid-19 across the U.S. have jumped 145% and hospitalizations 70%. All five of the Republican-controlled states above have fewer than 50% of their population fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to data collated by the New York Times. In Idaho, the sixth least-vaccinated state in the country, just 37% of people have received both vaccine doses. This is far short of the high levels experts believe may be needed to achieve herd immunity and stop the virus spreading, though some believe reaching this threshold may no longer be possible. These Republican states are also struggling to contain new outbreaks of the virus: When accounting for population, Florida is the second-worst state and Texas the tenth. Florida also has the second-highest level of hospitalization due to Covid-19. Texas is eighth and Arizona 13th.
After the CDC dropped its mask recommendation for vaccinated people in May, the states and counties that still had mandates in place began ditching them in droves. The agency reversed course Tuesday following “worrisome” new evidence on infections in vaccinated people and introduced stricter recommendations for schools. The states that have resisted further public health restrictions—at least 10 have taken steps to prevent local authorities putting them in place themselves—are overwhelmingly Republican and often the states that have the worst vaccination rates.
Democratic Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said she does “not anticipate another pandemic order, not in the near future and maybe not ever.” Michigan has some of the lowest rates of infection, hospitalizations and deaths in the country, though the governor recommended everyone get vaccinated to stay safe.
Several local governments had introduced mask requirements before the CDC’s guidance, including Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Nevada, facing one of the worst surges in the country (it is the worst for both deaths and hospitalizations), reinstated its mask mandate swiftly following the CDC’s guidance. A number of other states—including Delaware, New York and Washington—are reviewing the guidelines closely.
36. Based on the new CDC guidelines, that’s how many states have areas of transmission high enough to warrant mask wearing, regardless of vaccination status. This includes the entirety of Florida and most counties in Texas and Arizona.