Texas has had enough of coronavirus restrictions. On 10 March, the state implemented Governor Gregg Abbott’s executive order GA-34, which entirely rescinded previous executive orders that were intended to slow the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Texas is not alone as several other states such as Mississippi, Louisiana, and Michigan also eased their restrictions this month. These decisions may prove to be premature and put many lives at risk.
The decision to ease restrictions comes in the wake of a decline in new Covid-19 cases since early January. According to GlobalData, however, there are still hundreds of thousands of active cases in the US as daily new cases have remained in the 50,000 range in March. As seen in Figure 1, in Texas, which has the second-most cases in the US outside of California, daily confirmed cases remain high, with a seven-day average of over 4,500 cases as of 14 March. In Michigan, this number is similar, as seen in Figure 2, with a seven-day average of 2,223 daily cases on 15 March. These numbers resemble the average daily incidence during late summer when restrictions were in place. Such a high prevalence of Covid-19 cases shows that Americans remain at a heightened risk of contracting the disease. Easing restrictions will make it easier to contract and spread the virus, even outside of the states easing restrictions, as people can freely travel between states.
Vaccines have also played a role in the decision to ease restrictions and are likely to mitigate the above-mentioned transmission risk. Currently, the US has administered over 92 million doses, according to GlobalData estimates. While these efforts are admirable, the US remains short of reaching herd immunity, which is estimated to be around 60%–70% of the population, according to several researchers interviewed for a news article published in October on Nature by Christie Aschwanden. Several items may stand in the way of reaching heard immunity. Roughly 25% of Americans have indicated that they will refuse the vaccine, according to a Monmouth University poll. Even if all adults could receive the vaccine by 1 May, the Biden administration’s goal, the vaccine’s efficacy is not 100%. As such, relying on the vaccine is a weak foundation to ease restrictions as it might have a lower effect on mitigating transmission than state lawmakers anticipate.
Another potential factor that might cause an increase in disease transmission because of easing restrictions is the emergence of more transmissible SARS-CoV-2 variants. In Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Michigan alone, the CDC has reported several hundred cases of the B.1.17 variant and a few cases of the B.1.351 variant; both are more transmissible and likely more deadly than the Covid-19 strain that shut these states down a year ago.
Understandably, people are weary of the restrictions; however, reducing them in the short term may result in long-term restrictions for these reasons. As with any marathon, which the pandemic has shown itself to be, the last stages are the most difficult. With the states providing an avenue for relief regarding restrictions, it is up to individuals and business owners to be responsible for reducing the spread, even when it is difficult and they are no longer forced to engage in such restrictions.