White House coronavirus task force calls for a 'significant behavior change' from Americans

The White House coronavirus task force this week issued a dire warning to states of “aggressive, rapid, and expanding” spread of cases that requires a “significant behavior change” from all Americans ahead of the holidays. 

There is community spread of COVID-19 in more than 2,000 counties, reads the report issued to states and obtained by The Hill, which calls for forceful efforts to “flatten the curve to sustain the health system for both COVID and non-COVID emergencies.” 

The U.S. is averaging about 173,000 new COVID-19 cases per day in a fall surge that has also seen increases in deaths and hospitalizations.

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The pandemic is expected to worsen after the Thanksgiving holiday, when millions of Americans will gather with friends and family, against the advice of public health officials. 

The task force report says that states pursuing “aggressive mitigation” are beginning to see a stabilization of cases. 

“However, in many areas of the country, mitigation efforts are inadequate or too recently implemented to see a significant impact,” it states. 

The new surge can only be minimized through “proactive, focused testing” and a “significant behavior change of all Americans,” the report reads. “Ensure masks at all times in public, increase physical distancing through significant reduction in capacity in public and private indoor spaces, and ensure every American understands the clear risks of ANY family or friend interactions outside of their immediate household indoors without masks.”

The report also recommended states and localities restrict indoor dining and limit or close areas where people congregate without wearing masks. 

“These increased mitigation measures are a short-term sacrifice to protect the vulnerable as the U.S. bridges to the rapid vaccination of vulnerable populations over the next few months,” the report reads. “Maximizing control of transmission now will also allow for greater and earlier resumption of business activity in addition to limiting cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.”

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States should strengthen messaging about the importance of limiting personal gatherings, especially before the holidays, the task force says.

The report notes that Europe is experiencing a “similar” fall surge in cases but is showing signs of improvement because of mitigation efforts, including restrictions on gathering sizes, requiring mask use in public and closures of bars and restaurants.

Several states have issued restrictions in response to the rise in case numbers, but many have been hesitant to fully close restaurants and bars.

Brett Samuels contributed.