U.S. markets closed
  • S&P 500

    4,134.94
    -28.32 (-0.68%)
     
  • Dow 30

    33,821.30
    -256.33 (-0.75%)
     
  • Nasdaq

    13,786.27
    -128.50 (-0.92%)
     
  • Russell 2000

    2,188.21
    -43.79 (-1.96%)
     
  • Crude Oil

    62.61
    +0.17 (+0.27%)
     
  • Gold

    1,777.60
    -0.80 (-0.04%)
     
  • Silver

    25.83
    -0.01 (-0.04%)
     
  • EUR/USD

    1.2038
    -0.0003 (-0.02%)
     
  • 10-Yr Bond

    1.5620
    -0.0390 (-2.44%)
     
  • GBP/USD

    1.3939
    +0.0002 (+0.02%)
     
  • USD/JPY

    108.0950
    +0.0250 (+0.02%)
     
  • BTC-USD

    56,485.34
    +308.41 (+0.55%)
     
  • CMC Crypto 200

    1,296.41
    +62.00 (+5.02%)
     
  • FTSE 100

    6,859.87
    -140.21 (-2.00%)
     
  • Nikkei 225

    29,100.38
    -584.99 (-1.97%)
     
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Expert chides relaxing COVID mandates: 'I don't know why you can't wait just a little longer'

Adriana Belmonte
·Senior Editor
·5 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The decision by some U.S. governors to lift their states’ COVID-19 mandates has drawn criticism from public health experts, who feel that it’s too soon to make such a move even as a nationwide mass vaccination effort picks up speed.

States like Texas and Mississippi have moved to sharply curtail or completely lift protocols like universal masking and social distancing. In the Northeast, Connecticut — one of the hardest hit states — has also come in for criticism after relaxing many of its coronavirus restrictions.

“I don’t understand that,” Meghan Fitzgerald, a health care policy professor at Columbia University, recently said on Yahoo Finance Live. 

“I don’t know why you can’t wait just a little longer to get these numbers up, especially with Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine now being put out there. I don’t know why we can’t just wait another four weeks. We’ve waited a year — what’s another few weeks?” she asked.

Now that Johnson and Johnson (JNJ)’s COVID-19 shot has received emergency use authorization by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), there are now three different vaccines available for public use, along with Pfizer (PFE)’s and Moderna (MRNA)’s.

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

And though 87 million doses have been given so far, that only accounts for just over 17% of the U.S. population — putting the country sixth overall, behind Israel, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Chile, and Bahrain.

Plus, Fitzgerald noted, “only 9% of the [U.S.] population has received both doses. So the progress state by state is really what you have to look at. I think there’s still room for efficiency and, certainly, equity.”

'There's still some work to go'

So far, Montana, Iowa, North Dakota, and Mississippi have lifted their statewide mask mandates.

And on March 10, Texas will become the fifth following Governor Greg Abbott’s order to fully reopen the state and lift all restrictions, despite the fact that the state’s positivity rate is still at 13.46% and only about 15% of its population has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 03: Pedestrians walk down South Congress Ave. on March 3, 2021 in Austin, Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott announced today that the state will end its mask mandate and allow businesses to reopen at 100 percent capacity on March 10.  (Photo by Montinique Monroe/Getty Images)
Pedestrians walk down South Congress Ave. on March 3, 2021 in Austin, Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott announced today that the state will end its mask mandate and allow businesses to reopen at 100% capacity on March 10. (Photo by Montinique Monroe/Getty Images)

Across the country, “there seems to be a six-week downward trend in hospitalizations and deaths,” Fitzgerald said. “But in the last seven days, we’re seeing a bit of an uptick. And we’re also looking at variants. So I think there’s still some work to go.”

Over the past week, there has been a 15% decline in cases overall in the country. Yet states like Alabama, Vermont, and Arizona, along with some pockets of Texas, have seen a spike in positive cases.

“What I’ve been most concerned about are the seniors, those over age 65, and there are still areas for improvement,” Fitzgerald said. “Florida has 35% of its seniors vaccinated. But down in Pennsylvania, only 28% of the seniors have been vaccinated.”

Each state varies in its vaccine guidelines. Some states allow those as young as 50 years old to get the vaccine already, while others vary amongst age groups over 55. North Carolina leads the way with almost half of its elderly population receiving at least one dose of the shot, with states like Florida, Arizona, and South Carolina not far behind.

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

Relaxing mask mandates creates a “huge risk,” Fitzgerald told Yahoo Finance. 

“Not all of them are vaccinated. If you’re in a state where you haven’t been vaccinated, you’re high risk," she said. "And we’re taking away a mask mandate right now. You’ve got to get to a level where you’re close to herd immunity to start pulling back like that, or you’re putting people who haven’t been vaccinated at risk.”

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. top infectious disease expert, between 70-80% of the population need to be inoculated in order for the country to reach herd immunity. However, some public health experts would like to see as much as 90% vaccinated, because of the variants emerging.

“Personally, I think we see herd immunity on the back end of the summer,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m not as bullish on the front end, just because of the logistics, just because of the distribution.”

The vaccine rollout has significantly improved since it first began at the end of 2020. But the issue of vaccine equity has posed a challenge in the process.

A Florida Department of Health employee helps a senior who is getting the COVID-19 vaccine as people of 65 and over wait in line at the DOH Sarasota COVID-19 Vaccination Clinic in Sarasota, Florida, U.S. January 4, 2021. REUTERS/Octavio Jones
A Florida DOH employee helps a senior who is getting the COVID-19 vaccine as people of 65&over wait in line at the DOH Sarasota COVID-19 Vaccination Clinic in Fla. Jan. 4, 2021. REUTERS/Octavio Jones

“It has to be equitable,” Fitzgerald said. “This virus doesn’t go away if we only address parts of the United States or even just the United States. This is a global pandemic. The virus doesn’t know borders.”

Along with ensuring that at-risk communities have easy access to getting the vaccine, Fitzgerald also stressed the need for making sure that the elderly have just as fair of a chance, specifically because most of vaccine registration opportunities are online, and many older Americans aren’t as adept with technology.

“I’m most concerned about the seniors,” she said. “I’ll remain concerned about the seniors … Most of the seniors over age 65 have been the ones that have really been unfairly targeted by the virus. The highest death rate, 80% of the deaths, still sit at over 65.”

Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at adriana@yahoofinance.com.

READ MORE:

Follow Yahoo Finance on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flipboard, LinkedIn, YouTube, and reddit.