Help or 'get out of the way.' Biden criticizes governors in Texas and Florida over handling of COVID-19

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden expressed frustration with Republican governors who are blocking local businesses and schools from implementing coronavirus mask and vaccine mandates as the highly contagious delta variant continues to overwhelm states across the country.

Biden singled out Florida and Texas, both GOP-led hot spots that have pushed back against coronavirus restrictions in recent days, which he said accounted for a third of all new COVID-19 cases in the entire country.

"Some governors aren’t willing to do the right things to make this happen," Biden told reporters after delivering remarks on his administration's COVID-19 response. "I say to these governors, please help. If you aren't going to help, at least get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives."

The criticism comes as states across the country experience a new wave of infections driven by the delta variant of the coronavirus. The number of hospitalized Floridians reached 11,515 patients in one day on Tuesday, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Both Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott have issued executive orders banning mask mandates despite updated Centers for Disease and Prevention guidance calling for Americans – regardless of their vaccination status – who live in areas of high COVID-19 transmission to wear masks indoors and in public settings.

The president cited Abbott's order which bars schools, governments and other jurisdictions from implementing mask mandates as "the most extreme."

DeSantis issued an executive order blocking mask mandates in the state's schools last month, threatening to withhold funding from localities that implemented such measures. The state's second-largest county, Broward County, which encompasses much of Ft. Lauderdale, backed off its consideration of a school mask mandate upon the news.

Earlier on Tuesday, DeSantis criticized the media of creating "hysteria" and downplayed Florida's dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases.

"At the end of the day would I rather have 5,000 cases among 20-year-olds or 500 cases among seniors? I would rather have the younger," he told reporters.

Asked if Abbott and DeSantis are personally making decisions that are hurting their own citizens, Biden said that it was clear to him and most of the medical experts that their decisions are "bad health policy."

Earlier on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki echoed the president's comments and said that local leaders needed to make a decision about whether they were going to abide by public health guidelines to save people's lives or be guided by politics.

"The guidelines are pretty clear as it relates to the benefit of vaccination, as it relates to the benefit of masking for communities that are not vaccinated," she said. “If you’re not going to be part of the solution, if you’re not going to be part of saving people’s lives, then get out of the way and let other people do the job."

In March, DeSantis vowed that he would not reimpose new pandemic restrictions even if the Biden administration leaned on him to do so. “I am not going to let him lock down Florida," he pledged, even if the pandemic were to worsen in the state.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: President Biden criticizes Greg Abbott, Ron DeSantis over COVID-19

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