President BidenJoe BidenFighter jet escorts aircraft that entered restricted airspace during UN gathering Julian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy FBI investigating alleged assault on Fort Bliss soldier at Afghan refugee camp MORE on Wednesday denounced the governors of Texas and Mississippi for lifting coronavirus restrictions, calling the moves "Neanderthal thinking."
"I think it's a big mistake," Biden told reporters in the Oval Office when asked about the two states lifting their mask mandates and all capacity limits on businesses on Tuesday.
"I hope everybody's realized by now these masks make a difference," he added. "We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way we're able to get vaccines in people's arms."
He noted there will be enough vaccines available for all adults by May.
"The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime everything's fine, take off your mask, forget it," he said. "It still matters."
President Biden on Texas and Mississippi lifting their statewide mask mandates: "I think it's a big mistake...It's critical, critical, critical that they follow the science…" pic.twitter.com/ETcTJw04ij— CSPAN (@cspan) March 3, 2021
"We will not have everybody vaccinated until sometime in the summer," Biden said.
He said people should continue wearing masks, washing their hands and distancing from others in the meantime.
"I know you all know that," he said to reporters. "I wish to heck some of our elected officials knew it."
Biden's comments mark a major escalation in rhetoric from the White House. Public health officials earlier in the day reiterated in general terms that now is not the time to lift restrictions but avoided naming specific states.
The country is in a precarious moment in the course of the pandemic, experts say, with the promise of widespread vaccinations in a few months raising hopes for a dramatic improvement in the situation by summer.
But experts say continued restrictions in the final stretch are important before vaccines are widely available, especially with the rise of more infectious variants of the virus.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Tuesday cited the ongoing vaccinations as a reason to lift the mask mandate and all capacity limits.
"We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans by opening Texas 100 percent," he said.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) had a similar message on Tuesday.
"Executive orders that interfered with peoples’ lives were the worst, but the only possible, intervention for much of the last year," he tweeted. "Now, we are putting our focus towards rapid vaccine distribution. We are getting out of the business of telling people what they can and cannot do."
Updated at 2:42 p.m.