President Joe Biden called out the governors of Texas and Florida Tuesday, asking them to help curb the spread of COVID-19 or "get out of the way."
"Just two states, Florida and Texas, account for one-third of all new COVID-19 cases in the entire country. Just two states," Biden said.
The president was referencing the number of new COVID-19 cases in Texas and Florida that have been surging in recent days. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Texas, there have been 64,753 new cases in the last week compared to 123,400 in Florida.
The Republican governors of both states have vowed against further mitigation efforts like universal masking, vaccine mandates, or implementing shutdowns that restrict businesses despite the highly transmissible delta variant of the virus continuing to surge.
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Last week Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order prohibiting schools, governments, and other jurisdictions from instituting mask mandates. That order including blocking school districts from creating mask policies at elementary schools where children under the age of 11 are not yet eligible for the vaccine and have no other protection from the virus.
"Look we need leadership from everyone. If some governors aren't willing to do the right thing to beat this pandemic then they should allow businesses and universities who want to do the right thing to be able to do it," Biden said.
"I say to these governors, please help. If you aren't going to help at least get out of the way of the people that are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives," Biden said.
Following the president's remarks, NBC 5 reached out to Abbott's office for a response. Abbott's office replied and repeated what he's been saying for days, that Biden's border policies have created a crisis along the border where migrants are coming from countries that have low vaccinations and high COVID case counts and that rather than mandate masks as a mitigation strategy against the spread of that very same virus the governor's office says Texans must now rely on personal responsibility, not the government, to beat the pandemic.
"Every Texan has a right to choose for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, or get vaccinated," Abbott said Tuesday. "Vaccines are the most effective defense against contracting COVID and becoming seriously ill, and we continue to urge all eligible Texans to get the vaccine. The COVID vaccine will always remain voluntary and never forced in Texas.”
Last week three major Texas hospital groups said they were requiring all of their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. On Tuesday, Tyson Foods said they, too, were requiring all of their frontline workers to get vaccinated against the virus. Our partners at The Dallas Morning News report Tyson has about 12,000 employees in Texas at more than a dozen facilities.
In defiance of Abbott's executive order filed last week, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Friday said all city employees must wear masks while indoors starting Wednesday regardless of their vaccination status.
Meanwhile, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and Dallas County 162nd Judicial District Court Judge Maricela Moore ordered mask mandates in county courthouses and the commissioners court, citing an order from the Texas Supreme Court that says the judiciary has authority to "take reasonable actions to avoid exposing court proceedings and participants to the threat of COVID-19."
On Tuesday, Jenkins had fellow county commissioner JJ Koch escorted out of a commissioners court hearing by a bailiff for refusing to wear a mask.
Cases, Hospitalizations Continue to Climb in Texas, Florida
In Texas on Tuesday, the Department of State Health Services reported hospitalizations grew by 500 or so over Monday bringing the current number of COVID-19 patients in the state to 7,305. That number includes 1,967 patients in Texas ICUs who are fighting the virus. The DSHS also added more than 14,000 new confirmed and probable cases of the virus Tuesday.
Cases and hospitalizations have grown so much in Florida they are setting all-time high records in both categories, exceeding numbers reached during previous waves of the virus.
On Tuesday, NBC 5 in Miami reported the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in Florida rose to an all-time high of 11,515 patients including 2,400 in ICUs. That number is roughly 1,200 more than the day before.
"We're not shutting down, we're gonna have schools open, we're protecting every Floridian's job," Gov. Ron DeSantis said at the news conference at the Shark Valley Visitor Center. "These interventions have failed time and time again throughout this pandemic, not just in the United States but abroad. They have not stopped the spread and particularly with delta which is even more transmissible, if it didn't stop it before, it definitely ain't gonna stop it now."