Biden coronavirus adviser: 'Wear a mask, not forever, but for now'

The senior adviser for the White House's COVID-19 response team encouraged Americans to keep wearing masks as a preventative measure on Friday, as some states lift their mandates amid declining case numbers.

"The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and public health officials locally, at the state level and nationally are all clear: Wear a mask, not forever, but for now," Andy Slavitt said during a briefing on Friday. "Wear a mask now so that we can get to a place where you don't have to."

"And this is not just the voice of cautious public health experts, it is what businesses who want to remain open and many public officials of both parties who've lived through the last year are saying," Slavitt added.

Texas and Mississippi both lifted their mask mandates and capacity restrictions on businesses on Tuesday, though health experts warn newer, more contagious variants of the coronavirus could cause spikes in infections even as vaccinations increase.

"Progress demonstrates we can defeat COVID-19, but it does not equal success," Slavitt said. "It may seem tempting in the face of all of this progress to try to rush back to normalcy as if the virus is in the rear-view mirror. It's not."

President Biden earlier this week was sharply critical of the decision from Mississippi and Texas's GOP governors.

"I hope everybody's realized by now these masks make a difference," Biden told reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday. "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."

"The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime everything's fine, take off your mask, forget it," he added. "It still matters."