Task force report says 18 states in coronavirus ‘red zone’ should roll back reopening, including Florida
An unpublished document prepared for the White House coronavirus task force and obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit newsroom, recommends that 18 states in the coronavirus “red zone” for cases should roll back reopening measures amid surging cases.
The “red zone” is defined in the 359-page report as “those core-based statistical areas (CBSAs) and counties that during the last week reported both new cases above 100 per 100,000 population, and a diagnostic test positivity result above 10%.”
The report outlines measures counties in the red zone should take. It encourages residents to “wear a mask at all times outside the home and maintain physical distance.” And it recommends that public officials “close bars and gyms” and “limit social gatherings to 10 people or fewer,” which would mean rolling back reopening provisions in these places.
The report comes despite President Donald Trump’s insistence that states reopen and a push to send the nation’s children back to school, even as cases increase.
“Now we’re open, and we want to stay open and we will stay open. We’re not closing. We’ll put out the fires as they come out,” Trump said at a White House event earlier this month.
The following 18 states are in the red zone for cases: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.
The report says the following 11 states are in the red zone for test positivity: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas, Washington. The 11 states in the red zone for test positivity are also in the red zone for cases, with the exception of Washington state.
One of the states that is in the red zone for both cases and test positivity, Georgia, is currently embroiled in a political fight with its largest city. Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp filed a lawsuit over Atlanta’s Democratic Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ mandate on masks in her city Thursday. He claimed it violated his emergency orders prohibiting local leaders from adding to the state’s requirements to protect against coronavirus.
The task force report specifically includes a recommendation that Georgia “mandate statewide wearing of cloth face coverings outside the home.”
Asked about the task force report, Bottoms told CNN she had not been in touch with the task force.
“I had not heard from them, but again, the people that I’m listening to are the scientists and our health care professionals,” she said during an appearance on CNN’s “New Day.”
Devin O’Malley, spokesman for Vice President Mike Pence and the task force, didn’t dispute the document’s authenticity, and claimed the report showed “encouraging signs” amid the pandemic.
“When the vice president held a White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing at HHS a few weeks ago, he reported that 16 states met the criteria for rising cases and rising positivity rate. As it stands in that report, there are only 10 states that fit that criteria. This is just one data point of many encouraging signs that we are seeing across the country as we continue to respond to the coronavirus pandemic,” O’Malley said in a statement.
Dr. Deborah Birx also said earlier this month that people living in states with coronavirus surges should return to the White House’s original “phase one” recommendations on gatherings.
Citing guidelines such as wearing face masks and avoiding bars and indoor events, Birx said those steps should be resumed in order to bring cases back under control.
She said they are “asking the American people in those counties and in those states to not only use those face coverings, not going to bars, not going to indoor dining, but really not gathering in homes either. And decreasing those gatherings back down to our phase one recommendation, which was 10 or less.”
Birx touted the importance of mask-wearing and said “any kind of indoor gathering” should be avoided in places experiencing a spike in cases.
Asked by CNN’s Joe Johns about the document, counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway said: “I think we see the surge in cases and we know where the hotspots are. We’ve been very upfront about that, we’ve published many documents.”
She said she didn’t know about the document specifically but had read reports.
WINK News spoke to public leaders in Southwest Florida and a Harvard expert for their take on the unpublished document.
After reading the leaked analysis, Commissioner Burt Saunders in Collier County told us his first thoughts.
“I had not anticipated seeing anything like that,” Saunders said.
Saunders is specifically talking about how the authors want state and local governments to mandate masks.
“Well, I think the general feeling was that this was a violation of constitutional rights,” Saunders said. “Quite frankly, it is not.”
“It may be that you have to drag the local governments kicking and screaming to the same point that many people in the private sector have already arrived,” said Commissioner Frank Mann in Lee County.
Mann is glad Publix, Walmart, Target and so many other retailers decided to demand customers wear masks.
In the report, it recommends restaurants go down to 25%.
“I don’t think that’s a decision that we’re prepared to make at the local level yet,” Mann said.
WINK News spoke to Yonaton Grad, a Harvard immunology and infectious disease professor. He shared his opinion of the leaked study and Florida’s COVID-19 strategy.
“It’s baffling to me,” Grad said. “Obviously, they’re economic and political pressures, and it seems to me those are weaning out over concerns about the health of the populace.”
At a news conference Friday afternoon, a reporter asked Gov. Ron DeSantis about another recommendation in the study to shut down gyms. He said that does not make sense.