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Private White House document says counties in 'red zone' should close bars and gyms

A document prepared for the White House coronavirus task force and obtained by the Center for Public Integrity says 18 states are in the “red zone” for new cases and suggests hard-hit areas should take steps to roll back reopening phases such as closing bars and gyms. 

The document lays out specific recommendations for each state in more detail than Trump administration officials have given publicly. Among the notable recommendations are for counties in the “red zone” to close bars and gyms and to limit gatherings to 10 people or fewer.

Bars and gyms currently remain open across many hard-hit states, with some governors saying they do not want to take further actions to restrict businesses and damage the economy.

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Devin O'Malley, a spokesman for Vice President Pence, confirmed the authenticity of the document to The Hill on Friday and said it is one of the weekly reports of data that Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, compiles and sends to states.

O'Malley argued the document shows "encouraging signs," saying that this document shows 10 states meeting both of the "red zone" criteria, down from 16 states previously.

Asked why the weekly reports are not made public, even though they are sent to states, O'Malley said that has "been discussed" but he had no decision to announce.

The Center for Public Integrity reported there are 18 states in the document in the red zone for new cases, meaning they had more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people in the past week. Those states are Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

In addition, 11 states are listed as in the red zone for test positivity, meaning more than 10 percent of their tests came back positive. Those states are Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas and Washington.

The document says that counties that are in the red zone on both metrics should take a range of steps, including “close bars and gyms,” “limit social gatherings to 10 people or fewer,” and should have “public messaging” that states “wear a mask at all times outside the home and maintain physical distance.”

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Some Trump administration officials have also been publicly calling for hard-hit areas to close bars, though they have not called out specific states the way the document does. 

Brett Giroir, an assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, said on a call with reporters Thursday that in “these red zones that have high cases, high percentages increasing, it's very, very important to really close indoor bars.”

-- Updated at 12:17 p.m.