President Joe Biden’s pleas for states to stick with mask mandates to slow the spread of the coronavirus were being largely ignored on Tuesday as several Republican governors stayed on track to drop the requirement.
Mr Biden and the director of the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention said a day earlier this is no time to relax safety measures.
In a call with governors on Tuesday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky buttressed that message by citing “concerning” national trends: The seven-day average of 61,000 new Covid-19 cases per day is up 13%, and the seven-day average of deaths is up 6%.
But Arkansas’s Republican governor Asa Hutchison announced on Tuesday he was dropping the state’s mask mandate immediately, a day earlier than previously announced.
He said on the governors’ call that reopening his state was “really a necessity”. In Arkansas, the number of new reported cases was 69 on Sunday, according to the CDC, continuing a downward trend.
“Every state is different,” Mr Hutchison said.
On the other end of the spectrum, Michigan has witnessed a steep rise in cases. That prompted Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer to ask whether the White House has considered surging additional vaccines to states with rapidly increasing infection rates.
Jeffrey Zeints, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, replied that officials were “thinking through how to address hot spots”. He promised to do everything to support Michigan in its “difficult situation”.
Staying the course is a “tough message” to communicate, White House press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged.
“It’s important for people to hear that we’re still in a war with this virus, and people still need to be vigilant in order to return to normal,” she told reporters.
As more vaccines are deployed — with the nation on track to deliver 200 million doses overall by Wednesday — whether to enforce the wearing of masks has become the latest partisan focal point in the battle against the virus.
Alabama’s Republican governor Kay Ivey intends for her state’s mask mandate to end on April 9 as planned, though she urged people to wear masks as a matter of personal responsibility.
“We have made progress, and we are moving towards personal responsibility and common sense, not endless government mandates,” said Gina Maiola, Ms Ivey’s spokeswoman.
The Republican-controlled Arizona Senate voted on Monday to rescind its mandatory mask policy, and the House speaker made the same move on his own authority.
That action comes on the heels of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s move last week to lift remaining restrictions to curb the virus. The Republican’s executive order allows businesses to enforce mask mandates and distancing requirements if they want, but cities, towns and counties must lift theirs.
Kentucky’s Democratic governor Andy Beshear said he would appeal to his GOP counterpart in neighbouring Indiana, Eric Holcomb, to reconsider dropping the state’s mask mandate.
“My hope is he hears the president’s call,” Mr Beshear said.