States Reopening Too Soon, Experts Warn

The decision by Texas and other states to reopen seems to disregard the threat posed by COVID-19 variants, opponents of the move argue.

All eyes are on Texas after Gov. Greg Abbott yesterday announced plans to do away with that state’s mandatory mask mandate for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and that businesses can reopen at 100%. In making that decision, Abbott cited recent encouraging trends that show infection, hospitalization, and death rates from COVID-19 plummeting not only across the United States, but all over the world. On Monday, the state reported about 1600 new COVID-19 cases. And the number of deaths? Zero.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization, and marquee medical experts did not greet this development happily. They’re advice: Don’t do it.

Kevin Kavanagh, MD, a member of Infection Control Today®’s Editorial Advisory Board, texted ICT® last night when he heard the news: “The virus has not gone away, rates are too high, and too few are vaccinated. It is setting the stage for another resurgence and large wave of cases and deaths.”

Maya Gossman, RN, another member of ICT®’s Editorial Advisory Board, said that news of the reopening made her feel disappointed. “I feel like when you are on the right track and you know something you’re doing is working, you shouldn’t stop doing that just because you’re making progress. You should double down.”

In making the decision to reopen, Abbott seems to be disregarding the advice given by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, at a press briefing on Monday, where she pointed out that the recent decline in cases seems to have stalled at about 70,000 a day.

“With these new statistics, 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. “…Seventy thousand cases a day seemed good compared to where we were just a few months ago. But we cannot be resigned to 70,000 cases a day, 2,000 daily deaths.”

Walensky said that the COVID-19 variants could nullify any gains that have been made. “Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, not when we are so close. We have the ability to stop a potential fourth surge of cases in this country.”

For his part, Abbott said in a statement: “Make no mistake, COVID-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed. Today’s announcement does not abandon safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year. Instead, it is a reminder that each person has a role to play in their own personal safety and the safety of others. With this executive order, we are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny.”

Michael Ryan, MD, the WHO’s director of emergencies program, also warns that it is unrealistic to expect that COVID-19 will end soon, despite the falling case counts throughout the world. Zeke Emanuel, MD, a health advisor for President Biden’s transition team, told CNN yesterday says we need to keep the restrictions in place for another two or three months before we can ease up.

“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 said. “We’re still having, on average, 2,000 (Covid-19) deaths a day. We cannot become inured to that.”

Yesterday, there were 58,812 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, and 1566 people died, according to Johns Hopkins University. Overall, since the pandemic began, there have been about 28.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the US, and about 500,016 people have died from the disease. Overall, in the world, there have been 115 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, while about 2.5 million people have died from the disease.