PHOENIX – Four months after a race to reopen state economies led to a summer onslaught of coronavirus infections, several of those same states are moving again to reduce restrictions and return to some semblance of normalcy.
The decisions to end restrictions come as the number of new cases confirmed every day begins to rise once again after a mid-September plateau. Public health experts worry that growing case counts, coupled with the coming influenza season, will contribute to a new spike that will once again threaten to overwhelm hospitals.
Arizona’s Department of Health Services said Thursday that the state’s 15 counties have all met benchmarks needed to reopen gyms, bars that serve food and movie theaters. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) said last week that he has no plans to reimplement restrictions even though he anticipates case counts will rise.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) last week lifted all restrictions on businesses including bars and restaurants. The executive order DeSantis signed also prohibits local municipalities from fining people who violate mask-wearing mandates.
In Nebraska, Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) rolled back virtually all restrictions on social gatherings and distancing. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) allowed bars to reopen in four counties where she had ordered them shuttered just three weeks before. Reynolds has also tried to force public schools to open, setting up a clash with the Des Moines Public School district.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) ended restrictions on businesses and public gatherings in 89 of 95 counties. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) became the first governor in the nation to rescind a statewide mask mandate, one he had ordered in August.
“The numbers just simply don’t justify the heavy hand of government telling us that we have to wear a mask,” Reeves told The Hill in an interview Friday. “I will tell you that I continue to strongly suggest to my fellow Mississippians, particularly those that are in the more vulnerable categories, to please continue to wear a mask in public.”
“What you’ll see is that we’ll continue to have great participation by Mississippians and we’ll continue to slow the spread and flatten the curve,” he said.
Political leaders in those states cited positive trends in hospitalizations, even as overall case counts continue to rise.
“We know from some of the models that the public health experts are hypothesizing that there will be increased spread in colder climates,” Daniel Ruiz, Arizona’s chief operating officer, told The Hill. “We are very intentional about what reopening looks like.”
But public health experts warn that some states are putting themselves back on the path to a significant new outbreak, like those that erupted in June, July and August.
“We all want to get back to our normal lives as they were before the pandemic began, but one thing is absolutely clear, that the path to sustained economic recovery and the resumption of public activities is the path laid out by