Covid-19, even as health experts warn against doing just that.(CNN) – Several states on Tuesday announced they are loosening restrictions put in place to stop the spread of
Texas and Mississippi, for example, are lifting mask mandates and allowing businesses to open at full capacity.
It’s too soon, health experts say. After the number of new cases declined from unprecedented highs recently, the downturn appears to have stagnated at a high level — seven-day average case levels are as high as they were last summer. And more transmissible variants are spreading.
“This is not a time to relax restrictions — especially the governors who are all high-fiving themselves saying we’re out of this. We’re not,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital.
The country is at risk of losing “the hard-earned ground we have gained” in the battle against Covid-19 as highly contagious variants take advantage of Americans getting lax with safety measures, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from Covid-19,” Walensky said Monday. “Please stay strong in your conviction.”
“If we were to hang on a few weeks, at least, or maybe more than that, we’d learn a lot more, we’d figure out what this variant is actually doing,” Hotez told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Tuesday.
“And we’d have a higher percentage of the US population vaccinated. And then we could revisit it, but not now,” Hotez said of states reopening.
President Joe Biden said there will be enough vaccine for every adult American by the end of May, speeding up by months that expected timeline.
But, the President warned: “It’s not over yet. Stay vigilant.”
Highly transmissible variants that threaten to create another surge in the US include the B.1.1.7 strain, which was first identified in the UK. The CDC warns it could become the predominant variant in the US this month.
Dr. Zeke Emanuel, who was a member of the Biden Transition Covid-19 Advisory Board, is another who warned against opening up too early.
“We should not ease up, allow indoor dining, big groups … getting rid of mask mandates. We have to hold on for another two or three months in this condition,” Emanuel told CNN. “We’re still having, on average, 2,000 (Covid-19) deaths a day. We cannot become inured to that.”
If Americans relax too early, Covid-19 numbers are “going to reverse and go up,” he added.
Other states loosening restrictions
In Louisiana, most businesses and restaurants will be allowed to increase capacity to 75% and there will be no restrictions on religious services as of Wednesday, Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
In Michigan, restaurants can open at 50% capacity, up from 25%, on March 5, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said many businesses can increase capacity to 60% — including barbershops and hair salons, bars and restaurants, bowling alleys, fitness centers, movie theaters and government offices.
Pennsylvania state officials announced they had revised maximum-occupancy limits for indoor and outdoor events and eliminated out-of-state travel restrictions. And in Chicago, officials said they will allow restaurants to operate indoors at the lesser of 50% capacity or 50 people, raising the previous limit of 40%.
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said these moves are coming at the wrong time.
“We’ve got states easing restrictions — which they should not be doing at this moment — and we’ve got the variants that are circulating that are a lot more infectious. Put all that together, and (I) can’t help but worry about where we’re going to be for the next couple of months,” Jha said Tuesday.