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States relax COVID rules as health officials push back

U.S. states across the nation from Michigan, Louisiana, Texas, Massachusetts and Mississippi are all loosening or lifting COVID-19 restrictions as reported infections are on the decline, but health officials are strongly warning against it.

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER: “Today, we are announcing that restaurants and bars can operate at 50 percent capacity. That's up from 25 percent.”

On Tuesday Michigan and Louisiana eased limits on capacity for indoor dining and other businesses with Michigan’s Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer saying venues like movie theaters, bowling alleys and banquet halls will be able to have up to 300 patrons inside or 1,000 outside, with the revised order taking effect on Friday and lasting through mid-April .

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER: “Michigan is number nine nationwide for total vaccines administered and our case count and positivity rates remain among the lowest in the nation… The increased capacity limits outlined in this order will still give us the ability to protect public health as we carefully track variants and continue leading with science and data.”

Arkansas and Massachusetts this week ordered that restaurants no longer have capacity limits, and in Texas...

GOV. GREG ABBOTT: “It is now time to open Texas 100 percent”

The governor went even further – lifting its mask mandate entirely.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT: “Removing statewide mandates does not end personal responsibility. It's just that now state mandates are no longer needed.”

There were mixed reactions from residents near Houston.

RESIDENT LINDEE RAMBEAU: "Wahoo! I'm about done with masks."

RESIDENT DONNIE DEVAULT: "I know everybody is anxious. I'm anxious, but I think a few more weeks, a month, shouldn't hurt anybody."

Mississippi also ending its mask mandate effective on Wednesday with the Republican Governor Tate Reeves tweeting “it is time!”

ROCHELLE WALENSKY: “Now is not the time to release all restrictions.”

But on Wednesday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky cautioned against relaxing restrictions and urged Americans to continue public health precautions despite what their states permit.

ROCHELLE WALENSKY: “The next month or two is really pivotal in terms of how this pandemic goes, as we scale up vaccination. Every individual is empowered to do the right thing here. Regardless of what the states decide. For personal health for public health. For the health of their loved ones and communities...”

And President Biden on Wednesday echoed that sentiment.

PRESIDENT BIDEN: “Texas I think is a big mistake… the last thing we need is neanderthal thinking that in the meantime everything is fine take off your mask, forget it. It still matters.”

The number of new coronavirus cases in the United States dropped sharply for six weeks before plateauing last week, according to a Reuters analysis, and remains well below levels hit in January.