A man shops on 5th Avenue in New York during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on February 17, 2021.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters
More and more states are making significant efforts to reopen their economies and terminate their mask mandates, despite senior U.S. officials asking to be cautious until more Americans are vaccinated against Covid-19.
On Tuesday, Maryland became the youngest state to largely reopen its economy when Governor Larry Hogan announced that restaurants, retailers, and other businesses would be allowed to reopen without capacity restrictions from Friday.
Governors in Texas, Maryland, Mississippi, Connecticut, Arizona, West Virginia and Wyoming have announced similar plans in recent days as the pace of vaccinations accelerates and Covid-19 cases and deaths decline.
Some states are gradually introducing easing restrictions. New Jersey and New York jointly announced on Wednesday that restaurants in New York City may be half full again from March 19, at only 35%.
California has announced that it will reopen its famous theme parks, open-air stadiums, and ball parks on April 1st, albeit with reduced capacity.
Theme parks such as Walt Disney’s Disneyland are initially only allowed to accommodate residents of the Golden State, the state’s Ministry of Health announced. Disney CEO Bob Chapek said in a statement Tuesday that it will take time for the company to bring back employees on leave and train them to reopen in late April.
The decision to move forward and relax restrictions has contradicted warnings from leading health officials in the Biden government urging states to temporarily stop reopening businesses after the decline in Covid-19 infections hit a plateau in the nation . However, at a White House Covid-19 press conference on Wednesday, they admitted that daily infections seem to be on the decline again.
“So much is crucial in the next two months,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the National League of Cities on Monday. “How soon we will vaccinate and whether we will have another surge really depends on what happens in March and April.”
On Wednesday, the state-wide mask mandate in Texas ends and companies are allowed to reopen “100%,” Governor Greg Abbott announced last week, citing a decline in daily infections and vaccine availability.
After the move, several retailers and restaurants in Texas, the largest state to date, had to relax all restrictions, decide whether to relax their restrictions or to ask customers to continue wearing masks. Mississippi governor Tate Reeves lifted the state’s capacity restrictions on corporations and also dropped the state’s mask mandate last week.
Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon announced Monday that the state’s bars, restaurants, theaters and gyms will be allowed to resume “normal operations” on March 16. The state’s most vulnerable residents now have access to the vaccine, according to a statement.
Arizona, West Virginia, and Connecticut have also relocated to reopen restaurants, fitness centers, and other businesses at full capacity, although states will maintain their mask requirements. In late February, Arkansas lifted capacity restrictions on bars, gyms, restaurants, and large venues.
These states are following in Florida’s footsteps when they announced back in September that they would lift capacity restrictions on all bars and restaurants.
Some Republicans don’t have mask requirements
Other Republican heads of state outside of Texas and Mississippi recently canceled sweeping statewide mask requirements, including Iowa, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Montana, while others have announced plans to cancel their orders in the coming weeks.
Wyoming Governor Gordon said the state’s mask mandate will end when its stores reopen on March 16. Alabama governor Kay Ivey said last week that she would lift her state’s mask requirement starting April 9.
“Although I am convinced that a mask mandate was the right thing to do, I also respect those who object and believe that this was a step too far in excess of government,” Ivey said at a press conference on Thursday.
Even people vaccinated against the disease should continue to wear face covers in public and when meeting people who may be susceptible to the disease. This emerges from the new CDC guidelines for vaccinated Americans released on Monday.
“While the new guidelines are a positive step, many more people will need to be fully vaccinated before everyone can stop taking most of the COVID-19 precautions,” the CDC said.
US not “out of the woods”
The US had a daily average of around 57,436 new cases last week, a significant decrease from the US high of nearly 250,000 daily cases In early January, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
While the decline in daily cases “is good news,” the US is still grappling with sobering numbers of infections every day, and infections “could plateau again at unacceptably high levels,” the White House chief medical officer said. Dr. Anthony Fauci, on Tuesday.
“History with this virus has shown us that if you start at a level as high as this, which includes about 60,000 to 70,000 cases a day, you are by no means out of the woods,” Fauci said alongside Walensky earlier this week.
In addition, new and highly transmissible variants of the virus, particularly the B.1.1.7 strain first found in the UK, will be the predominant variant in the US by the end of March.
A virus spreading faster could result in more cases, hospitalizations and deaths, public health experts warn, and some early data suggests variant B.1.1.7 may be more deadly. According to Fauci, the US is currently assessing the effects of “native” varieties, including those believed to be from New York.
– The Associated Press and CNBC’s Berkeley Lovelace Jr. contributed to this report.