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'Neanderthal Thinking:' Biden Says Too Soon For States To Lift Mask Mandates

Updated at 8:38 p.m. ET

President Biden said on Wednesday that states like Texas and Mississippi are making a big mistake by ending mandates to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at a time when the nation is making a push to boost vaccinations.

"The last thing — the last thing — we need is the Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything's fine, take off your mask. Forget it. It still matters," Biden told reporters as he met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Oval Office.

It was uncharacteristically harsh language from Biden, who has placed a premium on civility. And it comes less than a week after he visited with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in Houston to talk about federal assistance for helping the state recover from deadly winter storms, and boost vaccinations in the state.

President Biden greeted Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in Houston late last month, following severe winter storms in the region.
Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden greeted Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in Houston late last month, following severe winter storms in the region.

Abbott and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves issued similar orders on Tuesday to end requirements for masks and to allow businesses to operate at full capacity. The governors argued that cases have fallen, so the public should be able to make their own decisions about safety.

Reeves shot back at Biden on Twitter Wednesday evening, saying "no insults from the President will stop us from leaning towards freedom."

Biden announced on Tuesday that his administration will have secured enough supplies of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of May for all adults in the country, a significant acceleration of its earlier goal of the end of July.

But Biden warned that it may take time to get those shots into arms. "We will not have everybody vaccinated until sometime in the summer," Biden said.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters Wednesday "now is not the time to release all restrictions," noting the next two months were "pivotal" to decreasing virus levels.

"How this plays out is up to us," Walensky said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.