Southwest Airlines passengers dance and cheer as couple accused of refusing to wear masks get thrown off flight

Southwest Airlines flight
Passengers on a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 flight line up to exit the aircraft after arriving at Houston’s Hobby airport March 20, 2021.

  • A TikTok video shows a woman arguing with a flight attendant about not complying with a mask-wearing mandate.
  • Passengers on the Southwest Airlines flight can be heard heckling and jeering at the passenger.
  • As the woman and her partner are escorted off the flight, those on the plane cheer and dance.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A TikTok video shows an entire plane clapping and cheering after a couple is escorted off a Southwest Airlines flight, Newsweek reported.

In the video shared by user Brendan Edler, a woman is seen arguing with a crew member.

The footage, which is filmed discreetly from three rows back, starts mid-argument.

The dispute revolves around a passenger who refused to comply with COVID-19 safety protocols by not wearing a mask.

Read more: Inside Southwest Airlines’ legendary culture – and how to get hired there

It should be noted that the woman is wearing a mask at the start of the clip.

The reaction of those on the plane, however, suggests this was not the case earlier on.

The woman, whose identity is unknown, is insistent that she did not break the rules. “I did comply,” says the woman to the flight attendant. “You’re saying I didn’t comply and put my mask on when you ask asked me to?”

Shortly after, the woman accuses the flight attendant of not telling the truth. “You’re a liar and you have to live with that,” she is heard saying.

Those on the flight then begin to heckle the woman and start saying their farewells.

“Bye,” shouts one person.

“Get off the plane,” yells another.

“That’s what happens when you don’t say you’re sorry,” someone else can be heard saying.

The woman then stands up, shows her middle finger to those on the plane, and walks off with her traveling companion.

The remaining passengers appear jubilant, with one woman proceeding to dance.

Insider contacted Southwest for further context on the incident. The airline said that it does not have any further details on the situation but provided information on its mask-wearing policy.

“Federal law requires Southwest to ensure every person age two and over to wear a mask at all times throughout a flight, including during boarding and deplaning,” a Southwest Airlines spokesperson said. “We communicate the face-covering mandate to all Customers at multiple touchpoints throughout the travel journey.”

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Wisconsin Supreme Court strikes down Democratic governor’s mask mandate as the state faces possible coronavirus surge

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This July 30, 2020, image taken from video by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services shows Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers in Madison, Wisconsin.

  • The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled against Gov. Tony Evers’ mask mandate Wednesday.
  • The court ruled Evers violated state law by issuing extensions of the order throughout the pandemic.
  • The decision comes as the state faces a rise in cases and officials warn of a possible surge.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide mask mandate Wednesday, right as the state sees an alarming rise in COVID-19 cases and faces another potential surge.

In a 4-3 decision, the conservative majority court ruled Evers, a Democrat, violated state law and exceeded his authority by unilaterally issuing multiple emergency orders during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

After lawmakers opted not to require face coverings indoors, Evers used the emergency declarations to impose and extend the mandate four times over the past year, including as recently as February. The court found that after the expiration of the first 60-day mandate, which Evers issued in August, the governor needed legislative approval to expand the order.

“The question in this case is not whether the governor acted wisely; it is whether he acted lawfully. We conclude he did not,” Justice Brian Hagedorn wrote in the majority opinion.

State law says governors can issue health emergencies for 60 days, after which the legislature must approve any extensions. Evers argued he could issue new emergency declarations without lawmakers’ approval in the face of an unpredictable pandemic.

Ultimately, the court disagreed with the governor – and not for the first time. The ruling is yet another defeat for Evers after the state Supreme Court struck down his stay-at-home order in May, and a state appeals court blocked his attempts to limit capacity indoors in October, according to The Associated Press.

The decision comes as the state grapples with another round of rising COVID-19 cases. The seven-day daily average jumped from fewer than 400 cases earlier this month to more than 500 as of Tuesday, the AP reported. A state health official told the outlet the state is seeing “warning signs” of another possible surge in infections.

Evers responded to the defeat in a series of tweets Wednesday morning, saying he’s “worked to keep Wisconsinites healthy and safe” since the beginning of the pandemic, and has “trusted the science and public health experts to guide … decision making.”

Mask mandates remain in place at the local level, including in many cities and counties across the state.

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley wrote in the dissenting opinion that the court’s ruling hurts Evers’ ability to try and save lives.

“This is no run-of-the-mill case,” she wrote. “We are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that so far has claimed the lives of over a half million people in this country. And with the stakes so high, the majority not only arrives at erroneous conclusions, but it also obscures the consequence of its decision. Unfortunately, the ultimate consequence of the majority’s decision is that it places yet another roadblock to an effective governmental response to COVID-19.”

Republican lawmakers celebrated the decision Wednesday, according to the AP, saying people and businesses should be free to make their own decisions and “don’t need state government telling them how to live their lives.”

The lawsuit challenging the order was filed six months ago as Wisconsin faced the worst surge resulting in thousands of deaths, according to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson calls COVID-19 vaccine skepticism among Trump supporters ‘a natural resistance to government’

Asa Hutchinson
Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Arkansas).

  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson said GOP vaccine skepticism is rooted in “a natural resistance to government.”
  • A Yahoo News/YouGov poll revealed that 50% of Trump voters said they would “never” get the vaccine.
  • Hutchinson is set to lift the mask mandate in Arkansas at the end of March.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas on Sunday said that the reluctance of many supporters of former President Donald Trump to receive COVID-19 vaccination shots is rooted in “a natural resistance to government,” a sentiment he described as “worrisome.”

During an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Hutchinson remarked at the conservative nature of his state’s electorate when host Dana Bash informed him of results from a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll which revealed that a full 50 percent of Trump voters indicated that they would “never” get the vaccine.

“I’ve thought a lot about that and I think it’s a natural resistance to government and skepticism of it,” he said. “But you look at the breadth of support here in Arkansas for President Trump, and you have rural voters, you have minority voters, and their hesitancy is worrisome, not just here but all across the country.”

He added: “I expect, as a country, we’ll get the 50 percent vaccination rate of the population, but we’re going to have a harder time getting from 50 percent to 70 percent, and it’s about overcoming the skepticism.”

Read more: Trump inner circle tightens grip on the GOP’s most valued prize – the former president’s endorsement – sparking a new brawl among top MAGA lieutenants

While former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter all participated in a recent series of public service announcements touting the vaccine, Trump did not to participate.

When asked if Trump should be more vocal about the merits of the vaccine, which the former president and former first lady Melania Trump received shortly before leaving the White House in January, Hutchinson said that messages of support from all leaders would be beneficial.

“Well, I’m delighted that he did get the vaccine [and] promoted that,” Hutchinson said. “I don’t know the story behind as to why he wasn’t in the PSA with the other presidents. Any message is helpful and I think we have to have our leaders, we have to have sports figures, we have to have different representatives of our community, including our political leaders, say [the] vaccine is important.”

Despite Hutchinson reflecting on the severity of the coronavirus, which has killed over 5,500 Arkansans and infected over 328,000 state residents, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, he said that he planned to lift the mask mandate at the end of March.

“We’re a year into this and we know so much more today than we did a year ago,” he said. “We had to educate people to understand the importance of the mask, and I expect even though we take the mask mandate away that people will continue to use the mask when you cannot socially distance. Common sense is going to replace mandates and I think that’s where we are right now.”

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A restaurant worker was stabbed by a man who refused to wear a mask, the latest customer-employee confrontation since Texas lifted its mask mandate

Jack in the Box
Jack in the Box restaurant.

  • A customer stabbed a restaurant worker multiple times after being asked to wear a mask.
  • The League City Police Department issued an arrest warrant for the man.
  • Many people have refused to wear masks at stores and restaurants since the mandate was lifted in Texas.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A restaurant manager was stabbed multiple times by a customer who refused to wear a mask on Wednesday at a Jack in the Box restaurant just outside of Houston.

The League City Police Department has issued an arrest warrant for the man.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the mask mandate would no longer be in place as of March 10. His decision came just days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned against reopening states too soon. Businesses can set their own mask and social-distancing requirements and many companies have said they will continue to require customers and employees to wear masks, even though it is no longer required by the state.

Since the mask mandate was lifted, there have been multiple reports of customers refusing to adhere to store policies. As a result, many frontline workers are forced to impose corporate rules without the support of the state government.

The League City Police Chief Gary Ratliff said in a press release that the manager was admitted to the hospital and has since been released.

“All I would ask is that people respect the opinions and the policies of these businesses,” Ratliff said. “You can refuse to do business at those locations, or whatever it is you choose to do, but there’s no reason to resort to aggressive behavior like this.”

Leading up to the altercation at the Jack in the Box restaurant, the man was told he had to wear a mask in order to enter the restaurant or could use the drive-thru without a mask. The maskless man filmed the incident and accused the restaurant manager of not wanting to serve him because he was homeless.

Moments later, the man stabbed the manager multiple times in the torso after the worker turned away, according to Ratliff. The police department has since identified the man.

Last week, a woman was arrested in Galveston for refusing to wear a mask.

In March, workers at the Houston-based Mexican restaurant, Picos, said diners threatened to report them to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency for requiring people at the diner to wear masks.

After Abbott’s announcement, a maskless Trader Joe’s customer accused the grocer of violating state laws by asking him to wear a mask in the store.

Multiple Texas officials have called Abbott to account for what they said was an “irresponsible action” and what President Joe Biden deemed a “big mistake.”

The state still has over 2.75 million cases and over 47,000 reported deaths, according to The New York Times.

Texas workers are now faced with the same difficulties presented at the beginning of the pandemic when people protested and boycotted stores for requiring masks and social distancing.

Many encounters early on during the pandemic led to instances of violence, where workers were shot or assaulted for asking customers to adhere to store policies by wearing a mask.

Read the original article on Business Insider

A judge said the city of Austin can have its mask mandate in place for at least 2 weeks as Texas rolls back its own statewide mandate

austin texas covid
A Covid-19 restriction sign hangs inside a T-Mobile store on March 3, 2021 in Austin, Texas.

  • A Texas judge ruled that the city of Austin is able to keep its mask mandate for at least two more weeks.
  • The ruling rebukes Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to roll back a statewide mandate.
  • Health officials have been sounding the alarms against relaxing COVID-19 restrictions like mask-wearing.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A Texas judge on Friday ruled that the city of Austin is able to keep its mask mandate for at least two more weeks, running against Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to roll back a statewide mandate.

Abbott earlier this month issued an executive order that lifted the state’s mask mandate beginning March 10.

With this ruling from Judge Lora Livingston, Austin can keep its mandate in place until at least March 26, KXAN reported. When the two weeks are up, there will be a hearing to determine whether Austin’s mask mandate remains in place going forward.

In response to Abbott’s order, city officials announced that a local mask mandate would remain in place until April 15 to “avoid another surge of cases” of the coronavirus.

The announcement from Austin officials drew ire from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who threatened to sue for enforcing mask-wearing despite Abbott’s order.

After receiving a letter from Paxton indicating intent of legal action, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he and Abbott were “simply wrong” and said their decision is an “assault against doctors and data.”

Most Texans have not yet received a coronavirus vaccine. Just over 9% of the state’s population has been vaccinated, vaccine-tracker data from Johns Hopkins University showed. Meanwhile, Texas has been rebounding from a devastating winter storm that led to disruptions in vaccine operations in the state.

Health officials have been sounding the alarms against relaxing COVID-19 restrictions like mask-wearing.

Mask-wearing for months has been one of the guidelines that various health agencies have touted as most effective for preventing the spread of the coronavirus in public spaces. Texas, however, is not alone in the decision to roll back mask mandates. Other states such as Mississippi, Montana, Iowa, and North Dakota have either entirely rolled back or announced plans to end mask mandates.

An ABC News-IPSOS poll released last week said 56% of Americans surveyed believe that government officials are loosening mask mandates too quickly.

Abbott’s executive order contradicts the guidance from health officials like Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who cautioned that despite three FDA-approved vaccines on the market, “now is not the time to relax restrictions.”

Adler called the judge’s ruling “good news” in a tweet.

“No matter what happens then, we will continue to be guided by doctors and data. Masking works,” Adler tweeted.

Paxton’s office did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment.

It’s been just over a year since the WHO declared the coronavirus a pandemic. More than 29 million people in the United States have contracted the virus in that time, the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University showed. Over 500,000 Americans have died.

JHU data showed that in Texas, there have been more than 2.6 million confirmed cases and more than 45,000 deaths.

Read the original article on Business Insider

States like Texas and Mississippi are lifting COVID-19 mask mandates, but with the pace of vaccinations and spread of variants, experts say it’s too soon

COVID Vaccine Line
People waiting in a Disneyland parking lot in Anaheim, California, to receive COVID-19 vaccines.

  • On Tuesday, Texas became the largest US state to lift its COVID-19 mask mandate.
  • But experts say the US is in a race against the clock to vaccinate before the variants spread.
  • While some restrictions can be eased as cases decrease, experts say masks should be the last to go.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

On Tuesday, Texas became the largest US state to lift its COVID-19 mask mandate, as a number of states have begun loosening restrictions.

Mississippi, Louisiana, and Michigan also announced easing some restrictions this week, while Iowa, Montana, and North Dakota ditched state-wide mask mandates earlier this year.

The drop in coronavirus cases has been cited in decisions to lift restrictions, and, indeed, most states are down from their fall and winter peaks. However, the nationwide decline in case counts seems to be stalling at numbers that public health officials have said are still too high, prompting warnings that it’s too soon to drop restrictions.

Infectious-disease experts told Insider that while the dropping case counts were promising, it’s too soon to make dramatic changes in restrictions, especially when it comes to masks.

“It’s completely too soon,” Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of California at San Francisco, told Insider.

“It goes against the grain of what President Biden is trying to do, which is a national strategy that we never had,” he said. “COVID doesn’t restrict itself by state borders.”

Chin-Hong said individual states’ lifting mask mandates echoed the situation in the US last year, when he said the lack of a national strategy hindered efforts to restrict coronavirus transmission.

Even as President Joe Biden’s administration has ramped up vaccinations, Chin-Hong said coronavirus variants were a big concern.

“The vaccine rollout is progressing everywhere, but it probably won’t be able to protect the population fast enough,” he said.

The experts Insider spoke with all said there were encouraging signs, but that the US was still in a race to vaccinate before virus variants spread more widely.

The uncertainty of the variants

Chin-Hong said some states lifting restrictions are dealing with virus variants, including the more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant. Several cases of that variant have been discovered in Iowa as well as a growing number in Texas.

But he called those cases only “the tip of the iceberg,” given the limited work being done to identify the variants.

The B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the UK, is known to be more transmissible than the original strain. British scientists have also become increasingly convinced the variant could be deadlier as well.

The variant has been detected in 46 states, and Chin-Hong said it would most likely be the country’s dominant strain by the end of March. If states continue to lift restrictions like mask mandates, it will increase the likelihood for B.1.1.7 to spread.

In states that have dramatically lifted restrictions, which now includes Texas, Chin-Hong said the virus was “probably having a party right now.”

B.1.1.7 is just one of many coronavirus variants circulating in the US and it’s possible more will emerge, making it an evolving issue with lots of uncertainty.

“We’re entering a phase where it’s harder to know what the near-term future is like,” Andrew Noymer, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of California at Irvine, told Insider.

He said his expectations for what would happen throughout the pandemic – such as the summer and winter surges – had largely been accurate. But, he said, for the first time he felt as if he really didn’t know what the immediate future would look like regarding the pandemic.

Racing to vaccinate

Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida, agreed it’s too soon to be lifting mask mandates.

“The thing is, we still have COVID circulating and don’t have the majority of people vaccinated,” she said, adding that while case numbers were lower than they were during the holiday surge, they’re still not at ideal levels in most places.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 80 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the US as of March 3. About 16% of Americans have received their first dose, while about 8% are fully vaccinated.

To reach herd immunity, an estimated 65% to 80% of a population needs to be immune.

The Biden administration is well on its way to achieving its goal of administering 100 million vaccine shots in its first 100 days, and it has plans to further ramp up vaccinations. The president said Tuesday the US will have enough vaccine doses for every US adult by the end of May.

But depending on distribution, it will take months for the doses to be administered.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who is also Biden’s chief COVID-19 medical advisor, has said priority groups won’t finish getting vaccinated until sometime in April. And it could take until late summer for all eligible adults to receive their shot.

If the more-transmissible B.1.1.7 variant becomes the most common strain, that leaves a lot of time for it to circulate in environments with loosened restrictions.

“It is really a race against time,” Prins said.

Before dramatically lifting restrictions, she said, states should have a combination of low transmission as well as a high number of fully vaccinated people to reach a “balance where we feel like we’re not going to have widespread transmission.”

“We’ll get to that point,” she said. “But we’re not there yet.”

‘Masks should be among the last to go’

Despite concerns over variants, Noymer of UC Irvine said it’s reasonable for states to reevaluate restrictions as case numbers drop.

“People are getting antsy,” Noymer told Insider. “What you don’t want to have is a situation in which people don’t want to follow any restrictions because they feel it’s all too strict.”

Noymer said loosening restrictions could even have an overall positive effect in some situations. For instance, he mentioned California, where an outdoor-dining ban in the fall sparked outrage and even prompted some restaurants and local jurisdictions to flout the rules.

Noymer considers this a significant problem because it risks some restrictions being viewed as meaningless.

Gov. Gavin Newsom reopened outdoor dining in California late last month, prompting some to wonder whether the decision came too soon. But Noymer said it just brought the restrictions closer in line with reality in some places, which can go a long way in maintaining the public’s trust.

“I’d like to have these orders still have some meaning when in the fall we might face a new wave with variants,” Noymer said.

But as far as what kinds of restrictions can safely be lifted, he said “masks should be among the last to go.”

He said relative to other aspects of life that had been disrupted by the pandemic, masks were a minor inconvenience relative to their public-health benefits.

“We know that masking is really important for prevention,” Prins said, adding that to keep case numbers from rising again it’s crucial for people to continue wearing masks and physical distancing until more Americans can be vaccinated.

Masks could be one of the last parts of the pandemic to go away, as Fauci recently said it’s possible Americans will be wearing masks into 2022, even after life begins to look a bit more “normal.”

Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at kvlamis@insider.com.

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Texas Gov. Abbott says he’s opening the state ‘100%’ and lifting the mask mandate a day after the CDC warned states not to relax COVID-19 restrictions

Greg Abbott
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas.

  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he’d lift a mask mandate and allow businesses to open “100%.”
  • There’s been an uptick in cases in Texas after the winter storm, and it has numerous hot spots.
  • CDC Director Rochelle Walensky warned this week that states shouldn’t let their guard down.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas issued an executive order on Tuesday to allow the state’s businesses to open “100%” and to lift the state’s mask mandate effective March 10 as federal health officials warn states against relaxing restrictions too soon.

After a devastating winter storm, reported COVID-19 cases in Texas rebounded from a seven-day average of 4,412 on February 20 to 7,693 by Monday, according to The New York Times.

Texas also has more hot-spot counties than any other state: Ten counties have reported more than 100 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents on average over the past seven days.

A study recently identified Houston as the first US city where scientists had confirmed the presence of all the major COVID-19 variants, the Houston Chronicle reported on Monday.

Nationwide, a six-week decline in cases has leveled off, while hospitalizations and deaths have continued to decrease.

So far, according to The Times, just over 12% of Texans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and about 6% have been fully vaccinated, putting Texas toward the bottom of the pack of US states. The winter storms in February disrupted vaccine operations in Texas and nearby states.

Abbott’s executive order is precisely the type of action that Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned against on Monday.

“These data are evidence that our recent declines appear to be stalling – stalling at over 70,000 cases a day. With these new statistics, I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public-health measures we have recommended to protect people from COVID-19,” Walensky said in a briefing of the White House’s COVID-19 task force.

“At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” she said, adding that “now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.”

Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, tweeted that reopening Texas was “not what I’d recommend.”

“Infections are still high. Variants of concern are spreading. And TX is 48th among states in vaccinations,” he said. “With more vaccines on the way, doing this in a couple of months would be far more reasonable. Doing it now? Big risk with people’s lives.”

Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi also announced on Tuesday that his state would fully reopen.

“Starting tomorrow, we are lifting all of our county mask mandates and businesses will be able to operate at full capacity without any state-imposed rules,” he tweeted. “Our hospitalizations and case numbers have plummeted, and the vaccine is being rapidly distributed. It is time!”

Coronavirus restrictions – and by extension Abbott – have been at the center of a partisan tug-of-war in Texas. The conservative wing of Abbott’s party has hammered him over imposing any restrictions at all, while Democrats have criticized him as not going nearly far enough.

Abbott’s administration was also scrutinized after Texas’ independent power grid, ERCOT, which was developed during the 1970s to evade federal regulations, failed during the winter storm.

Problems with the power grid left millions of people without power or potable water as freezing temperatures and extreme weather descended on the state. Reporting later revealed that Texas’ power grid was minutes away from collapsing.

The Texas Democratic Party released a statement on Tuesday slamming the governor, who is up for reelection in 2022.

“What Abbott is doing is extraordinarily dangerous,” Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said. “He is the worst Governor in modern Texas history. This will kill Texans. Our country’s infectious disease specialists have warned that we should not put our guard down even as we make progress towards vaccinations. Abbott doesn’t care.”

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Dropping mask mandates is a mistake, the head of the CDC said, after Iowa and Montana ruled that masks were no longer compulsory

Rochelle Walensky
Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

  • It is a mistake for states to lift mask-wearing mandates, the director of the CDC said Sunday.
  • Iowa lifted compulsory mask-wearing in public on February 5, and Montana did the same Friday.
  • Relaxing rules while virus variants circulate could put the US in a “difficult spot,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Sunday it was a mistake for states to lift mask-wearing requirements, after Montana and Iowa lifted theirs.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky told Face the Nation that mask mandates should only be lifted when kids were safely back at school and communities were back to “some normal functioning.”

Lifting mask mandates while more infectious coronavirus variants were circulating could put the US in a bad spot, she said.

Iowa governor Kim Reynolds lifted compulsory mask-wearing in public on February 5, and Montana governor Greg Gianforte terminated the state’s mask mandate Friday.

A CDC study has shown that putting on a cloth mask over a surgical one could reduce COVID-19 exposure by 96.4%.

Walensky said that there were still 100,000 cases new each day in the US – two and a half times the number of cases in the summer – and between 1,500 and 3,500 daily deaths. 

Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist who advised President Joe Biden’s transition team on the COVID-19 pandemic, warned February 1  of a “surge” of coronavirus cases in the US because of more infectious coronavirus variants, like B.1.1.7, the variant first found in the UK, which is estimated to be 30-50% more contagious than the original virus.

There are more than 1,000 confirmed B.1.1.7 cases in 39 states, and about 4% of infections in the US are from B.1.1.7, Walensky said. The CDC predicted in January that the variant would become the most common coronavirus in the US by the end of March.

Walensky said that normal mitigation strategies – such as mask-wearing – work against the variant 

If these strategies were relaxed with more transmissible variants out there, the US could be in a “much more difficult spot,” she said.

“Now is the time to not let up our guard. Now is the time to double down,” Walensky added.

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Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows ultimately convinced the President a mask mandate was a bad idea

trump mark meadows paul ryan susie neilson mask mandate
President Donald Trump and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

  • Mark Meadows, President Trump’s chief of staff, reportedly convinced Trump not to introduce a nationwide mask mandate, The New York Times reported Thursday.
  • According to the Times, Meadows said such a mandate would alienate Trump’s strongest supporters: “The base will revolt,” he said. 
  • Meadows’ comments convinced Trump to forgo a mask mandate despite polling data showing a majority of Republicans were in favor of one. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Mark Meadows, President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, was ultimately the one who convinced the president to forgo a nationwide mask mandate to help fight the coronavirus pandemic, The New York Times reported on Thursday.

According to the report, President Trump’s main pollster, Tony Fabrizio, came to the Oval Office in the middle of the summer for a meeting with Trump and his advisors. Fabrizio reported some surprising news: A majority of voters – including likely Trump supporters – supported mandatory mask-wearing in public. 

Fabrizio’s poll had found that, in July, nearly 70% of voters in states being targeted by Trump’s campaign were in favor of a mask mandate, including more than half of Republicans. The polling data supported an argument made by senior advisors Jared Kushner and Hope Hicks: Trump could portray mask-wearing as Americans’ key to regaining their freedom to attend group gatherings and indoor events. 

But Meadows disagreed. During the same meeting, he argued the politics of such a move would damage the President’s reputation with his most ardent supporters. 

“The base will revolt,” Meadows said, according to The Times.

Several of Trump’s other advisors shared this viewpoint, including White House senior advisor Stephen Miller. Meadows added that he wasn’t sure such a move would be legal, either. 

For Trump, Meadows’ words ended up outweighing the wishes of Kushner and Hicks, and of Fabrizio’s polling data. 

“I’m not doing a mask mandate,” he reportedly said. 

After that, Trump was rarely seen in public wearing a mask, except for after he contracted COVID-19 himself in early October.

Trump lashed out at Jared Kushner for overseeing what he saw as too much testing

Jared Kushner and Trump
Advisor Jared Kushner (R) looks on as President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office.

In addition to Meadows’ involvement in discouraging a mask mandate, the New York Times report also detailed how Trump lashed out at Kushner for what he saw as too much testing for COVID-19.

Kushner helped oversee nationwide testing efforts throughout the year.

According to The Times, during another Oval Office meeting of top aides on August 19, Trump grew angry with increases in COVID-19 testing in the US, which he blamed for higher case numbers.

“You’re killing me! This whole thing is! We’ve got all the damn cases,” Trump reportedly yelled at Kushner.

“I want to do what Mexico does,” Trump continued. “They don’t give you a test till you get to the emergency room and you’re vomiting.”

Trump also criticized Kushner about testing during debate preparation, according to the report.

“I’m going to lose,” Trump said, according to The Times. “And it’s going to be your fault, because of the testing.”

Azmi Haroun contributed reporting.

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No mask, no mic: Pelosi installs new rule requiring masks for lawmakers speaking on House floor and withdrawing recognition from those who speak without a mask

GettyImages nancy pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks during her weekly press briefing on November 20, 2020.

  • On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that members would be required to keep their mask on while addressing the floor.
  • A July mandate applied to the chamber but did not explicitly extend to the house floor. 
  • The mandate comes as the US death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed 300,000, and as 15 members of the House and Senate have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last month.
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As the US passed 300,000 deaths from COVID-19, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expanded the House of Representatives floor mask requirement on Tuesday. Pelosi’s move means that House members will need to wear masks while speaking on the House floor, as they have been required to do when speaking with the media in the chambers.

“Masks will now be required at all times in the hall of the House without exception,” Pelosi said at a House session on Tuesday. “Members will not be recognized unless they are wearing a mask and recognition will be withdrawn if they remove the mask while speaking.”

Tuesday’s move by Pelosi follows a directive her office issued in July requiring masks on the House floor, given an earlier refusal among many House Republicans to wear them. 

Initially, mask compliance was relatively respected on the floor, but Pelosi has tightened the requirements after the spread of COVID-19 has increased among representatives in the House and Senate.

At least 36 House and Senate members have tested positive since the start of the pandemic, and fifteen of those positive cases have emerged in the last month as the pandemic worsens.

Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene responded to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement on Twitter, calling the mandate “an oppressive violation of my rights.” 

Pelosi has also spoken favorably about the incoming administration’s plans for a 100-day mask mandate to help curb the pandemic.

In early December, the Capitol’s Attending Physician Brian Monahan urged everyone to wear surgical masks “at any time you are in the company of another person, inside or outside,” and also called on representatives to not attend receptions and dinners during the holidays.

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