Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday criticized President Joe Biden for calling his decisions to lift Covid-19 restrictions and mask mandates earlier this week “Neanderthal thinking” and blamed the state’s ongoing outbreak on undocumented immigrants.
Abbott’s comments come after his widely criticized decision on Tuesday to rescind most of the state’s Covid-19 restrictions, including a statewide mask mandate. Texas businesses will be allowed to open “100%,” effective March 10, he said. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves made a similar move at roughly the same time.
Biden on Wednesday slammed the governors for what he said was a “big mistake” and added that “the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking.”
Abbott told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that the comment was “not the type of word that a president should be using” and blamed the spread of the coronavirus on immigrants crossing the southern border. The Republican governor said the Biden administration has “refused to test” them for the virus.
“The Biden administration has been releasing immigrants in South Texas that have been exposing Texans to Covid. Some of those people have been put on buses, taking that Covid to other states in the United States,” Abbott told CNBC. “That is Neanderthal-type approach to dealing with the Covid situation.”
While the Republican governor didn’t provide specifics, Telemundo reported on Tuesday that some migrants released by Border Patrol in the Texas city of Brownsville subsequently tested positive for Covid-19. Since the city began testing on Jan. 25, 108 migrants have tested positive for Covid-19, which is 6.3% of all those who took a test, according to the report.
“The Biden administration must stop importing Covid into our country,” Abbott said.
Top U.S. health officials have repeatedly urged states not to lift Covid-19 restrictions as nationwide coronavirus cases and deaths stall and highly transmissible variants threaten to “hijack” the recent decline in infections.
However, Abbott defended his decision to lift the state’s mask requirements, claiming that Texans already know that “the safe standard, among other things, is to wear a mask.”
“Do they really need the state to tell them what they already know for their own personal behavior?” Abbott told CNBC.
The governor added that the state’s coronavirus infections are “at four-month lows” and Texas hospitals stand ready to treat an influx of patients if needed. Texas is reporting a daily average of roughly 7,265 new cases over the last week, a drop compared with the peak of more than 20,400 daily cases the state reported in January, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
However, new infections have started to creep back up across the state, with average daily new cases growing by nearly 13% compared with a week ago.
Abbott said most of the state’s coronavirus spread over the holiday was driven by indoor gatherings, not by restaurants and other businesses. The newly lifted restrictions “are not really that transformative” because the state’s mask mandate wasn’t enforced and businesses were already at 75% capacity, he said.
“Maybe to people in New York it seems like this is a big difference,” Abbott said.
— CNBC’s Will Feuer contributed to this report.