White House officials leading the Coronavirus response have shied away from criticizing states that are relaxing their COVID-19 restrictions. 

The Biden administration is treading lightly with governors who are relaxing the Coronavirus restrictions, even though top federal health officials are urging the public to keep wearing masks and social distance to limit the spread of the new virus variant that is more contagious than the previous one.


 

On Friday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that indoor dining could resume, as the number of new coronavirus infections and hospitalizations finally dropping after a months-long surge of cases. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy also eased occupancy restrictions on restaurants, gyms, and casinos. Iowa Governor Kim Reyolds already repealed the mask mandate that was previously implemented. 

Meanwhile, Biden’s team has used its thrice a week COVID-19 press briefings, emphasizing the need for the public to uphold basic public health measures, including limiting travel and gatherings, as the new variant threatens the nation. 

However, Biden officials leading the administration’s pandemic response have shied away from criticizing states that are easing up their restrictions. Behind the scene, the weekly calls with governors from the White House primarily focused only on vaccine distribution behind the scene.

Recently, at least 34 states have reported cases of the new strain of coronavirus, which is 30%-50% more transmissible than the older version of the virus. Federal scientists also predicted that this new strain of Coronavirus, which was first identified in the United Kingdom, could become predominant in the United States by late March. 

During the campaign period, Biden made promises that he would take strong action in bringing the pandemic under control and lauded his skills as a negotiator. But now, public health experts are saying the Biden administration’s hesitance to pressure states that are easing their COVID-19 restrictions could endanger the fragile progress in decreasing the rate of cases and deaths. 

Health officials are also stating that if the recent case of the virus or other variants begin to surge, this could also overwhelm hospitals and even threaten the ongoing vaccination efforts by giving the virus higher chances to mutate. 

The head of the Big Cities Coalition, which represents metropolitan health departments, Chrissie Juliano, said, “The new administration is getting to a point in the response where they may have to make some decisions about being more aggressive with governors or other sorts of elected officials around things that need to happen in communities to slow the spread.” She added, “those include masking and thinking about indoor dining.”

On the other hand, the White House hasn’t responded to questions about whether federal officials have already discussed reopenings with governors directly or whether states should provide further restrictions to slow the spread of the virus. 

Instead, Andy Slavitt, senior adviser of the White House coronavirus response team, stated to POLITICO, highlighting the administration’s decision to require masks for travelers and anyone that would go on any federal property.  

Slavitt said, “While we are realistic enough to understand that this doesn’t mean every governor will be [in] alignment with our policies, we urge all Americans to protect themselves, their families, and their communities by wearing a mask.”

In the meantime, leaders of different states face a tough challenge about handling the new COVID variant together with their constituents’ growing impatience with Covid-19 safeguards.

Meanwhile, the Republican Mayor of Oklahoma City, David Holt, has deviated from state policy and instead ordered a mask mandate that will be effective until March. He also expects to extend this mandate beyond that time. 

However, despite supporting the mask mandate, Holt did not consider imposing the stringent public measures provided by other states, such as closing businesses to prevent the spread of the new strain. 

Holt said, “The reality is — and this is maybe one of the challenges of managing a pandemic in a democratic society — is you really can’t get ahead of things, you have to be responsive because public buy-in is such a critical aspect of its effectiveness.” He added, “If you’re not seeing the variants in your own backyard, you’re not likely to do anything about it.”