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White House COVID-19 team to brief public as states ease restrictions

WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — White House officials plan to brief Americans on the latest COVID-19 pandemic response efforts Friday, closing out a week in which several states started making major changes to ease restrictions.

The nation’s top infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, and other members of the team will hold the briefing at 11 a.m. ET.

Earlier this week, the U.S. launched its rollout of the third approved COVID-19 vaccine, and several states – seeing a decline in infections and hospitalizations – started lifting mask mandates.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday announced an end to the state’s mask order, and a move to do away with limits on the number of diners that businesses can serve indoors.

“It’s time to reopen Texas 100%,” the Republican governor said. “So that any business that wants to open can open.”

Mississippi also lifted its face-covering mandate on Tuesday.

But Biden and other leaders have urged Americans to keep wearing masks until the virus has been fully tamped down.

“Now is not the time to pull back,” Dr. Fauci told MSNBC on Thursday.

“We were going in the right direction. Now is the time to keep the foot on the accelerator and not pull off,” he said, referring to the announcements in Texas and Mississippi.

President Biden called out the states’ Republican governors this week for what he deemed “Neanderthal thinking” in deciding to relax their COVID-19 restrictions.

Texas, Mississippi and Alabama are near the bottom of the list of states in the number of vaccines administered per capita, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The three states are also near the top of the list in the percentage of people who test positive for COVID-19, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

President Joe Biden on Friday appointed two new members to the White House COVID-19 response team.

The president named Charles Anderson to serve as the team’s director of economic policy and budget, and Sam Berger to director of strategic operations and policy. Anderson most recently served in an advisory role on tax and economic policy to Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, while Berger held a leadership position at the Center for American Progress, a public policy research organization. Both Anderson and Berger also served in advisory roles within the Obama-Biden administration.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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