These States Just Loosened Restrictions Despite COVID Surges
Amid spikes in coronavirus cases, these states are lifting mask mandates and other restrictions.
With COVID numbers spiking again in states across the country, health experts fear conditions worsening throughout the fall and winter. After the steady declines of late summer, it seemed for a moment that the coronavirus pandemic might be slowing down—and perhaps that's why some areas are moving forward with their current reopening plans, even as they start to see an uptick in new cases. In fact, there are several states now loosening their restrictions despite active COVID surges.
To be fair, at least two states have responded to recent spikes and are taking measures to mitigate the virus' spread. In Utah, where September was the state's worst month since the pandemic began, Gov. Gary Herbert rolled back reopenings in Provo and Orem on Sept. 22, as state health officials issued a public health order implementing a new mask mandate. And Wisconsin, facing one of the worst outbreaks in the country, extended its face mask mandate into November.
Many struggling states loosened restrictions months ago, while others never had any restrictions to begin with. But the following states did impose mask mandates, crowd limitations, and other laws designed to reduce coronavirus transmission, and some of those restrictions are now being lifted, just as numbers climb. Here's a look at the new orders, and where these states stand. And for more states battling outbreaks, These 7 States Are Now Seeing the Worst COVID Spikes in the U.S.
On Sept. 25, Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted all restrictions on restaurants and other businesses in Florida, ABC News reports. Restaurants and bars are now allowed to operate at full capacity, though the governor said he would allow local governments to limit bars to 50 percent capacity. The move prompted concern from health experts, including Anthony Fauci, MD, who said Florida was "asking for trouble."
While Florida's COVID numbers had been on the decline, the state is now seeing a spike in new cases: On Sept. 29, cases jumped from 738 the day before to 3,266. Over the past seven days, there have been just over 16,015 new coronavirus cases in Florida, The New York Times reports, contributing to more than 706,500 cases overall.
Massachusetts has officially entered its next phase of reopening, with Gov. Charlie Baker announcing relaxed COVID restrictions on Sept. 29, according to the Boston Globe. Indoor performance venues can open again, while gyms and museums are allowed additional capacity. Baker said that these activities have not caused coronavirus spikes in other states.
But COVID is already spiking in Massachusetts, as NBC Boston reports, although state officials have attributed the rise in the positivity rate to increased testing at universities. The last week has seen just over 3,600 additional coronavirus cases, giving the state a total of more than 132,115 cases. And for a bit of good news about the pandemic, Dr. Fauci Just Said the 4 Words You've Been Waiting to Hear.
On Sept. 30, Mississippi became the first state to end a statewide mask mandate, per Forbes. The mandate began on Aug. 4 and had been extended by Gov. Tate Reeves. Though he let the order expire, Reeves said, "I want to be clear, I still believe that masks work. I still plan to wear one. It is the smart and prudent and wise thing to do."
As The Clarion-Ledger notes, Mississippi was one of the hardest hit states over the summer, with cases and deaths surging in July. The numbers began to decrease in August, but according to The New York Times, Mississippi is still one of the states where "new cases are higher and staying high." The more than 3,615 new COVID cases in the last week have given Mississippi a total of 98,190 cases.
Nevada, another one of the states that faced significant challenges over the summer, seemed to have contained its COVID outbreak. Now, however, The New York Times categorizes it as a state "where new cases are lower but going up." Nevertheless, KTNV Las Vegas reports that Gov. Steve Sisolak significantly increased the capacity for large gatherings as of Oct. 1. The limit, which was 50 people, is now up to 250 people or 50 percent of a room's capacity. Conventions and conferences can have up to 1,000 people, if certain safety protocols are in place.
The current surge in Nevada is reflected by the over 3,175 new coronavirus cases over the past seven days. There have been just under 80,085 COVID cases in Nevada thus far. And for a state in need of immediate intervention, This Hard-Hit State Has By Far the Worst COVID Outbreak in the Country.
Once the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic in the U.S., New York emerged as one of the greatest success stories for COVID containment. The state's status as the model to follow may now be in jeopardy, however, as new cases are on the rise in certain areas of New York City, according to The Wall Street Journal. The city's positivity rate jumped to over 3 percent after more than a month of staying under 1 percent, which NYC Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi called "alarming" at a Sept. 29 press conference.
The increase in new cases did not halt plans for the return of indoor dining to the city, with restaurants opening their doors to customers at 25 percent capacity on Sept. 30. And on Sept. 29, elementary schools reopened, with students returning for in-person classes. It's worth noting that despite the recent spike, numbers in the state as a whole have been rather stable: The additional 6,765 cases over the last week are a relatively minor contribution to the almost 463,370 COVID cases since the start of the pandemic.
On Sept. 29, Gov. Bill Lee announced that he would be lifting coronavirus restrictions on businesses and large gatherings in 89 of Tennessee's 95 counties, per the Chattanooga Times Free Press. The counties excluded are the largest six in the state, and they will be able to set their own restrictions for another month, the governor said. Hamilton County, for example, still has a mask mandate set by Mayor Jim Coppinger, though it's unclear what will happen on Oct. 8, when it's set to expire.
Tennessee is still listed by The New York Times as a state "where cases are higher and staying high," despite some progress in controlling the outbreak. Over the past seven days, there have been nearly 9,300 new coronavirus cases statewide, giving Tennessee a total of almost 193,360 COVID cases to date. And for more on what's fueling these outbreaks, New Evidence Shows How COVID Can Spread Outdoors.
Texas has had major ups and downs during the coronavirus pandemic, emerging as one of the key epicenters after New York but then showing significant improvement. On Sept. 17, Gov. Greg Abbott loosened COVID restrictions in several parts of the state, according to The Texas Tribune. The updated regulations allow restaurants and stores to operate at 75 percent capacity, up from 50 percent.
But Texas is not out of the woods yet, and there have been recent signs of another coronavirus surge. As NBC DFW reported on Sept. 30, new cases and COVID hospitalizations are on the rise. According to The New York Times, there were just over 30,475 new coronavirus cases in Texas over the last week, with a total of more than 784,025 cases total.
The Sept. 29 Casper Star-Tribune headline put it plainly: "As coronavirus cases surge, Wyoming loosens restaurant restrictions." Restaurants can now seat up to eight people at a table, and there is no longer a requirement to space people out in booths. Gov. Mark Gordon released a statement saying, "sit-down dining in restaurants has not significantly contributed to the spread of COVID-19 throughout the state." Meanwhile, certain mask mandates and crowd gathering limits remain.
Something must be contributing to the COVID surge in Wyoming, however, and Gordon did acknowledge "a rising number of active cases." In the last seven days, the state has seen nearly 780 new coronavirus cases, inching Wyoming closer to 5,950 cases overall. And for more up-to-date information, sign up for our daily newsletter.