Fauci calls loosening Covid-19 restrictions inexplicable as variants threaten another surge

CNN's Erin Burnett and Dr. Anthony Fauci discuss the governors of Texas and Mississippi deciding to ease their coronavirus restrictions, even completely lifting mask mandates, amid the pandemic.

Posted: Mar 4, 2021 5:20 PM
Updated: Mar 4, 2021 5:20 PM

While tens of thousands of Americans are infected with the coronavirus each day and more research suggests variants threaten another surge, some state leaders are loosening Covid-19 restrictions against the recommendations of health experts.

The decision to roll back measures is "inexplicable," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"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," Fauci told CNN's Erin Burnett on Wednesday.

Alabama on Thursday became the latest state to make a major announcement about masks. The state will allow its face-covering mandate to expire on the evening of April 9, Gov. Kay Ivey said.

Earlier this week, the governors of Texas and Mississippi said they were lifting mask mandates and allowing businesses to operate at full capacity immediately or within days, announcements that came as health experts warn that the spread of more-transmissible coronavirus variants risks sending infection rates soaring once again.

Of particular concern to health experts is the B.1.1.7 variant which was first identified in the United Kingdom and has now been found in 44 US states, as well as Puerto Rico and Washington, DC.

A person with that variant can infect 43% to 90% more people than the older versions of the virus, according to evidence published Wednesday by researchers the Centre for Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

In a statement, the Infectious Diseases Society of America said the US must continue to use masks, social distance, wash hands and avoid large gatherings.

"We can't forget the lessons this pandemic has taught us or its terrible toll, and we must not relinquish the ground we've gained," said Dr. Barbara Alexander, the president of ISDA.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said even in states where leaders are no longer requiring those measures, individuals can decide to "do the right thing" about distancing and wearing masks.

States dropping mandates and expanding business capacity

At least 16 states are now without statewide mask mandates.

With less than 7% of residents in his state fully vaccinated, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order Tuesday lifting a statewide mask mandate and allowing businesses to operate at 100% capacity, effective March 10.

"It is clear from the recoveries, the vaccinations, the reduced hospitalizations and the safe practices that Texans are using, that state mandates are no longer needed. We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans," Abbott representative Renae Eze told CNN.

The governor said county leaders may opt to use mitigation strategies if regional Covid-19 hospitalizations rise above 15% of bed capacity for seven days straight. But they cannot impose jail time for people who don't follow Covid-19 orders, nor can residents be penalized for not wearing masks, he said.

In Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves said starting Wednesday the state would lift its county mask mandates and allow businesses to operate at full capacity, citing lower hospitalization and case counts. Mayors of cities including Jackson and Greenville said they will keep enforcing citywide mask mandates.

Some public health experts have urged states to wait, at least for far more vaccinations and lower cases levels, before easing safety measures like mask mandates.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said Thursday that the more-transmissible B.1.1.7 variant was showing up in between 20% and 30% of the viruses obtained in surveillance checks in states including Florida, California and Georgia. Those figures -- just 1%-2% four weeks ago -- likely will double within 10 days, he said.

When that variant turned up in 50% in surveillance checks in parts of Europe and the Middle East, "we (saw) a major surge in (overall) cases" -- and the same could happen in the US, he said.

"Everything that the governors are doing right now to relax all the public health recommendations that we've made are only going to be a major invitation of this virus to spread faster and farther," Osterholm told CNN's "New Day."

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine also announced revisions to public health orders Tuesday, including dropping a 300-person limit for events at banquet centers. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer unveiled a series of eased restrictions taking effect Friday, including expanded capacity for restaurants, retail, gyms, stadiums and other facilities.

And in Louisiana, the majority of businesses -- including restaurants and salons -- will be allowed to operate at 75% capacity starting Wednesday, while religious services will no longer have capacity limits, the governor said.

Health experts encourage public to accept Johnson & Johnson vaccine

A third vaccine entered the US market this week after the US Food and Drug Administration gave emergency use authorization to Johnson & Johnson's one-dose product. Before this week, the only Covid-19 vaccines authorized in the US -- from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna -- were two-dose vaccines.

Health experts are excited about the new option, which they say is easily distributed due to its single-dose model and ability to be stored at normal refrigeration temperatures.

But some with the option to receive it have expressed hesitancy.

Because the public has heard that the shot is only 72% protective in the US, and the Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines are about 95% protective, some will think this is a "second class" vaccine, experts have said. Experts say those numbers are highly misleading -- and are urging people to take whatever shot is first available to them.

"My big concern here is that the Johnson & Johnson is being labeled as the inferior vaccine," said Dr. Leana Wen, a CNN medical analyst and former Baltimore public health commissioner, "when that's not a fair assessment to make."

With limitations on distribution and the race to vaccinate Americans before another surge, some people may get to choose their vaccine, while others may not, officials have said.

That is the right choice for the current emergency, a team of bioethicists wrote in a commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"In most aspects of US health care, patient preferences are paramount, and currently Americans remain free to decline vaccination against SARS-CoV-2. But among the willing, a policy limiting choice among vaccines will bring efficiencies to the fair distribution of a critically scarce resource," they concluded.

As of Thursday morning, 16.3% of the US population has had at least one shot of a Covid-19 vaccine, and 8.4% have had two.

High school students likely to be vaccinated in the fall

Johnson & Johnson has set its sights on exceeding its target of 100 million doses by the end of June, CEO Alex Gorsky said.

And experts have estimated that vaccines will be available to all US adults by May, but the question of when children can be vaccinated isn't clear.

"Right now, we project that the clinical trials will give us information that by the time we get to the fall, high school students will be able to be vaccinated," Fauci said Wednesday. "I'm not sure if it's going to be by the first day of school, but sometime in the fall."

Their younger siblings will have to hold out a little bit longer, he explained, during a livestreamed town hall event with members of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

"The way the program is now scheduled, children who are elementary school, 6 to 12, that group of individuals...those individuals will not be able to be vaccinated until their trials are finished, which will likely be at the earliest, the end of this year," Fauci said. "More likely the first quarter of 2022."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1097128

Reported Deaths: 17438
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1437882222
Lake712531225
Allen65537867
Hamilton50147482
St. Joseph48760639
Elkhart39461538
Vanderburgh34221495
Tippecanoe30237271
Johnson27179463
Hendricks25845379
Porter25014381
Madison20656444
Clark19898275
Vigo18764308
LaPorte16857260
Delaware16425291
Howard16408311
Monroe16379217
Kosciusko13936163
Hancock12841185
Bartholomew12686188
Warrick11995189
Wayne11879265
Floyd11869225
Grant11701235
Morgan10252188
Boone9675120
Noble9069121
Henry9002165
Marshall8907146
Dearborn881799
Dubois8710139
Shelby8054128
Cass8014127
Lawrence7922182
DeKalb7591106
Huntington7448108
Jackson743893
Gibson7002118
Montgomery6910123
Harrison685296
Knox6827113
Steuben654186
Miami6477107
Whitley642260
Putnam631982
Clinton618976
Wabash6060108
Jasper601791
Jefferson5689103
Ripley549192
Adams532381
Daviess5003116
Scott480378
Wells471799
White468767
Greene461799
Clay457462
Decatur4529109
Jennings439666
Fayette435694
LaGrange419290
Posey403244
Washington384154
Randolph3818107
Fountain368362
Spencer355846
Fulton355572
Starke348772
Owen346276
Sullivan344954
Orange324470
Jay318650
Rush298332
Carroll289438
Franklin286744
Perry283253
Vermillion280458
Tipton247365
Parke246330
Pike244144
Blackford218044
Pulaski205658
Newton179052
Brown171850
Crawford167929
Benton163217
Martin150819
Switzerland145112
Warren132216
Union117816
Ohio91413
Unassigned0585

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1683472

Reported Deaths: 26483
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1766331826
Cuyahoga1641462636
Hamilton1122641528
Montgomery794721387
Summit702171199
Lucas618431017
Butler55878803
Stark525841170
Lorain41058639
Warren35404412
Mahoning35095769
Lake31445493
Clermont30711362
Delaware26682182
Trumbull26664611
Licking26200335
Medina25291351
Fairfield24173287
Greene24051369
Clark21653387
Portage20709280
Richland20587336
Wood19626246
Allen18542320
Miami17031348
Columbiana16502331
Muskingum16416206
Wayne15432304
Tuscarawas14086357
Marion13054194
Erie12423198
Ashtabula12314225
Scioto12235182
Pickaway12070151
Ross11487223
Hancock11256173
Geauga10666174
Lawrence10504171
Belmont10259231
Huron9588155
Jefferson9462225
Union939175
Sandusky9068166
Seneca8692156
Knox8618169
Washington8613156
Athens827396
Darke8270179
Ashland7840147
Auglaize7741115
Shelby7337132
Defiance7210114
Crawford7082150
Brown7052115
Fulton7016111
Logan6857108
Mercer681697
Guernsey680283
Highland6615117
Madison641389
Clinton6388106
Williams628798
Preble6171139
Putnam6089120
Jackson572396
Champaign568286
Perry558879
Coshocton5552103
Ottawa553599
Morrow506464
Fayette483170
Hardin477899
Gallia462978
Pike459076
Van Wert454691
Adams4514109
Henry424976
Hocking401493
Holmes3939137
Wyandot367973
Carroll351578
Paulding319349
Meigs302457
Monroe231860
Noble216447
Morgan210138
Harrison205152
Vinton183937
Unassigned05
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The warming trend is expected to continue through Thursday before cooler air returns to the Midwest.
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