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President Biden criticizes states for lifting mask mandates, capacity limits

WASHINGTON -- President Joe Biden on Wednesday said "it’s a big mistake" for states to start lifting pandemic restrictions, decrying what he called "Neanderthal thinking" as the governors of Texas and Mississippi announced an end to mask-wearing requirements in their states.

"I think it's a big mistake," Biden told reporters in the Oval Office when asked about Republican governors Greg Abbott of Texas and Tate Reeves of Mississippi abandoning mask mandates and capacity limits at businesses that were aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.

"The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything's fine, take off your mask, forget it. It still matters," Biden said, before noting that more than 511,000 Americans have died of COVID-19.

Biden, who was meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers on the issue of cancer research, urged Americans to continue following federal guidelines meant to stop the spread of the virus.

"It's critical -- critical, critical, critical -- that they follow the science," Biden said. "Wash your hands, hot water, do it frequently. Wear a mask and stay socially distanced. And I know you all know that. I wish the heck some of our elected officials knew it."

On Tuesday, the president announced there should be enough COVID-19 vaccine supply for every American adult by the end of May -- two months earlier than anticipated.

Abbott and Reeves cited the increased availability of vaccines and a decline in hospitalization rates as reasons for relaxing restrictions in their states, but federal public health officials have warned that a spring surge in cases could occur as new variants of the disease spread and if Americans stop adhering to social distancing guidelines.

Reeves in a tweet directed at Biden said: "Mississippians don’t need handlers. As numbers drop, they can assess their choices and listen to experts. I guess I just think we should trust Americans, not insult them."

Abbott in a tweet argued: "We are able to contain COVID and safely allow Texas to open 100%"

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky, when asked about the competing messages between the federal government and states with more lax approaches, said she encouraged "individuals to wear masks, to socially distance, and to do the right thing to protect their own health."

"Every individual is empowered to do the right thing here, regardless of what the states decide for personal health, for public health, for the health of their loved ones and communities," Walensky said.

Biden’s remarks came as he met with a group of nine lawmakers to kick-off discussions on reviving the Cancer Moonshot initiative he launched as vice president.

Biden, who lost his son Beau to brain cancer in 2015, was tapped by President Barack Obama a year later to lead the federal initiative aimed at eradicating all forms of cancer. As a presidential candidate Biden vowed to continue the work of finding a cure for cancer.

"I said once before that I'd love to be the President to preside over the end of cancer as we know it," Biden said, adding that "we're on the cusp of some real breakthroughs across the board on cancer."

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