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Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves speaks on Covid-19 testing in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC on September 28, 2020. ANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

Mississippi GOP Gov. Tate Reeves defended his decision to end the state’s mask mandate.

Reeves told CNN’s Jake Tapper that it was never his “objective” to eradicate the virus.

Public health experts have said it’s too soon to eliminate COVID-19 prevention measures.

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Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, in an interview Sunday defended his decision to roll back the state’s mask requirement even as public health officials warn such actions are premature.

“The numbers don’t justify government intervention at the levels we are seeing in other states,” Reeves, who in the said he still encouraged residents to wear masks, said in an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“Unlike President Biden, who wants to insult Americans and insult Mississippians, I actually trust Mississippians to make good decisions,” Reeves added.

Biden on Wednesday criticized leaders in Mississippi and Texas for ending mask mandates, calling the moves “neanderthal thinking.

“I think it’s a big mistake,” Biden told reporters last week. “Look, I hope everybody’s realized by now, these masks make a difference. We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way with which we’re able to get vaccines in people’s arms.”

But Reeves said he viewed his decision as necessary to bolster the state economy and that he never intended to entirely eradicate the disease in his state.

“Our objective in Mississippi has never been to get rid of the virus,” Reeves said. “Our approach has been not only to protect lives but to protect livelihoods.”

Over the past seven days, 12% of COVID-19 tests have returned a positive result compared to the 4.2% positivity rate nationally over the past week, according to data analyzed by Johns Hopkins University. In total, there have been 297,321 cases of the disease in the state that have resulted in 6,805 reported deaths.

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Dr. Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, warned in an interview Sunday the US may be in the “eye of the hurricane” in a period where new cases are declining from an all-time high earlier this year but before a highly contagious variant first found in the UK causes a potential new “surge” in cases.

Several states that have rolled back mask mandates, including Texas, Iowa, Montana, and North Dakota, have announced plans to rescind mask mandates. Other states, including Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, or Tennessee, never had a statewide mandate.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since April 2020 has recommended the usage of masks to stem the spread of the pandemic and in February recommended double masking to further reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. But throughout the pandemic, mask mandates have remained at the forefront of the fierce debate between health experts and politicians.

Masks are still recommended by experts, even amid the accelerated vaccine rollout across the US.

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