The decisions from both state governors to end mask mandates and allow businesses to fully reopen led to condemnation from the president and health experts
President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden
| Credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty

President Joe Biden heavily criticized the governors of Texas and Mississippi after both announced that they were lifting the mask mandates for their states and allowing business to fully reopen, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday, Biden called the decisions by the two Republican governors, Greg Abbott of Texas and Tate Reeves of Mississippi, "Neanderthal thinking" with daily cases still high and faster-spreading virus variants circulating, particularly in both states.  

"I think it's a big mistake," Biden said during a bipartisan meeting with lawmakers focused on ending cancer. "Look, I hope everybody's realized by now, these masks make a difference. We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we're able to get vaccines in people's arms."

"The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything's fine, take off your mask, forget it. It still matters," he continued.

President Joe Biden and Texas Governor Greg Abbott (L) listen to officials at the Harris County Emergency Operations Center in Houston, Texas on February 26, 2021
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (left) and Joe Biden on Feb. 26
| Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty

Biden urged citizens of both states to continue following safety guidelines, regardless of what their governors said.

"It's critical — critical, critical, critical — that they follow the science: Wash your hands, hot water, do it frequently. Wear a mask and stay socially distanced," he said. "And I know you all know that. I wish the heck some of our elected officials knew it."

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Following Biden's comments, Abbott's press secretary said the governor "was clear in telling Texans that COVID hasn't ended, and that all Texans should follow medical advice and safe practices to continue containing COVID," CNN reported. Reeves, meanwhile, responded to Biden directly, mocking his age.

"Given how long ago Mr. Biden was elected to the US Congress, he certainly should know how Neanderthals think," Reeves said, according to CNN. "But here's the reality, I trust the people of Mississippi to make the right decisions."

In his statement announcing the lifted restrictions, Abbott said he made the decision in part because "with the medical advancement of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus." Texas currently has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with just 13% of all Texans having received at least one shot, according to The New York Times. Mississippi's rate is slightly higher, at 15%.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, also criticized the states for rolling back restrictions, calling the decision "inexplicable."

"I understand the need to want to get back to normality, but you're only going to set yourself back if you just completely push aside the public health guidelines — particularly when we're dealing with anywhere from 55[thousand] to 70,000 infections per day in the United States," he said on CNN Thursday morning.

In Texas, new COVID-19 cases have dropped from their holiday peak but are still high, with around 7,200 a day, according to the Times. Mississippi's cases are low, at around 500 a day, but trending upward. Nationwide, the country is averaging about 64,000 new COVID-19 infections a day and 1,800 deaths.