Health Care

Private coronavirus task force reports warned states of virus spread


Trump administration officials for months privately warned several states they were becoming “red zones” of coronavirus spread while publicly downplaying the severity of the outbreak, according to documents released by House Democrats on Monday.

The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released eight weeks of reports obtained from the administration’s task force that give a detailed look at how the virus spread across states. They include detailed state-level data on test positivity, as well as county-level data on case numbers. 

States and counties in the “red zone” had more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents, and more than 10 percent of new tests were positive.

The administration privately issued the reports to states, and held periodic calls and meetings with state and local officials, but none of it was available to the public. 

The White House has insisted that the response to the pandemic be led by states, with the federal government providing only guidance.

Democrats on the subcommittee said the reports show the White House has been deliberately covering up the true extent of the pandemic.

“The White House has known since June that coronavirus cases were surging across the country and many states were becoming dangerous ‘red zones’ where the virus was spreading fast,” the subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), said in a statement.  

“As a result of the President’s failures, more than 58,000 additional Americans have died since the Task Force first started issuing private warnings, and many of the Task Force’s recommendations still have not been implemented,” Clyburn said.

The committee released White House coronavirus task force reports issued from June 23 through Aug. 9 that were obtained as part of the subcommittee’s ongoing investigation into the White House pandemic response.

While the task force was privately warning states about the virus, President Trump and Vice President Pence were reassuring the public that the pandemic was under control.

For example, on June 16, Pence wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed that blamed the media for stoking fears of a coronavirus resurgence, saying that “panic” was “overblown.”

But just a week later, the task force concluded that seven states were in the “red zone.” New cases had spiked 70 percent in Arizona, 72 percent in Texas, 87 percent in Florida, 93 percent in Oklahoma and 134 percent in Idaho.

Still, Pence pushed the benefits of states reopening businesses, saying “all 50 states are opening up safely and responsibly.”  

By mid-July, the task force concluded 20 states were in the “red zone” and increased testing was recommended.  

“Disease trends are moving in the wrong direction in Georgia with record numbers of new cases occurring in urban, suburban and rural areas. Testing positivity continues to increase. The number of tests has increased, but more testing is needed,” the report from July 14 said. 

In response, the committee’s top-ranking Republican, Rep. Steve Scalise (La.), criticized the Democrats for failing to acknowledge that cases have been decreasing recently. He said the Trump administration has not been withholding any information.

“Data on cases, positivity rates, hospitalizations, and deaths are widely available and have never been hidden from the American people nor from state and local governments,” Scalise said.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said the report “falsely” distorted Trump’s “record to protect the health and safety of the American people and save millions of lives.” 

Deere said the task force has encouraged governors and local health officials “to act immediately, while at the same time President Trump and the entire administration has reminded Americans to follow CDC recommendations and best practices to slow the spread as we work to reopen.”

Yet the White House has shown little interest in enforcing or publicly discussing any of the task force guidance and recommendations, and the documents show many states are still failing to comply with task force recommendations.

Some recommendations such as mask mandates, closing down bars, banning large gatherings and limiting indoor dining were made more than two months ago.

Fourteen states that have been in the “red zone” since June 23 have refused to impose statewide mask mandates — including states with spikes like Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee. 

Iowa and Nebraska have attempted to ban local jurisdictions from imposing mask mandates.

Updated at 4:36 p.m.

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Pandemic Red Zone Steve Scalise White House coronavirus task force

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