WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday urged Republican leaders in Florida and Texas – home to roughly a third of all new U.S. COVID-19 cases – to follow public health guidelines on the pandemic or “get out of the way” as the country struggles to contain the rapid spread of the disease’s Delta variant.
Biden also announced the United States had donated more than 110 million vaccine doses to 65 countries, but the White House kept its focus largely on the crisis at home: outbreaks in the two Republican-led states accounting for an outsized share of rising cases nationwide.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has opposed strict COVID-19 restrictions. On Friday, he issued an order blocking mask mandates in the state’s schools. Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an order last spring that would impose fines for mask mandates.
“Some governors aren’t willing to do the right thing to beat this pandemic, and they should allow businesses and universities who want to do the right thing to be able to do it,” Biden said, without referencing the two men by name.
“I say to these governors … if you’re not going to help, at least get out of the way.”
Asked later if DeSantis and Abbott were making calls that harmed their citizens, Biden said: “I believe the results of their decisions are not good for their constituents.”
One in three new COVID-19 cases nationwide occurred in Florida and Texas in the past week, White House pandemic response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters on Monday.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the White House was in discussions with both states about offering help to address the problem.
As of Saturday there were about 72,000 new COVID-19 cases per day in the United States, a 44% increase over the previous week, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
New York City will require proof of COVID-19 vaccination at restaurants, gyms and other businesses, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday. Biden urged other cities and localities to do the same.
Biden said the U.S. donation of vaccines outstripped efforts by other countries such as Russia and China.
He said the United States would continue to give tens of millions of doses away across the summer.
“We’re doing this to save lives and to end this pandemic. That’s it,” he said.
In late August, the United States will also start shipping 500 million doses of Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE’s vaccine to 100 lower-income countries, the White House said in a statement earlier in the day.
Advocates believe the United States could be sharing even more.
“We could give away lots of what we have and still be fine,” said Gregg Gonsalves, assistant professor of epidemiology of microbial diseases at the Yale School of Public Health.
Helping the rest of the world would benefit the United States in its domestic fight as well, he added.
“If we don’t control it everywhere, we’re not going to control it anywhere,” Gonsalves said.
COVAX, backed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, seeks to secure two billion COVID-19 vaccine doses for countries in need by the year’s end.
In June, a WHO official said many nations did not have enough doses to continue vaccination efforts or had simply run out.
The White House on Tuesday said it would work with COVAX and other regional partners to ensure the donated vaccines were equitably delivered.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Jeff Mason and Susan Heavey; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Bill Berkrot and Karishma Singh)