Coronavirus and Inequality

Published — December 17, 2020

‘Darkest red’ for the coronavirus surge: Task force pleads with states to do more

Santa Claus adjusts his protective face shield between visits from children and their families at Bass Pro Shops, in Miami on Nov. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Nearly every state is now in the White House’s red zone for deaths. But states no longer receive the task force’s recommendations automatically.

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Update: Dec. 17, 4 p.m.: This story has been updated with new details about access to the task force reports.

The White House Coronavirus Task Force this week added a new color to its maps — “darkest red” — as it tried to convey the severity of the surge in coronavirus cases and deaths in weekly reports to governors. But the White House has stopped sending the reports to states unless officials specifically request them, further restricting access to recommendations intended to save lives.  

“The fall surge is merging with the post-Thanksgiving surge to create a winter surge with the most rapid increase in cases; the widest spread, with more than 2,000 counties in COVID red zones; and the longest duration, now entering the 9th week, we have experienced,” the task force wrote. “Many Americans continue to gather indoors, creating private spreading events.”

For a second week in a row, 49 states and the District of Columbia were in the task force’s red zone for new cases, with more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents in the previous week. Rhode Island, Ohio and North Dakota were at the top of the rankings. Hawaii was the only state not in the red zone.

Forty-eight states plus the District of Columbia — four more than in last week’s report — were also in the red zone for deaths, with more than two per 100,000 residents in the previous week. Iowa and the Dakotas were in the lead. Washington and Hawaii were the only states not in that red zone.

The task force again urged states to implement stricter measures to control the spread of the virus.

The Dec. 13 reports from the White House Coronavirus Task Force included a ranking of states based on their rates of new cases per population. (Screenshot of report)

“Mitigation efforts must increase, including key state and local policies,” the task force wrote. “Increase physical distancing through significant reduction in capacity or closure in public and private indoor spaces, including restaurants and bars.” 

But states must now request the reports if they want to know the task force’s advice, according to a federal official who works with the Department of Health and Human Services. That’s a change from previous weeks.

Public Integrity obtained Dec. 13 reports for four states — North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington — but spokespeople for 13 other states said on Thursday that they had not yet received their reports. It’s not clear if they knew they now need to request them. 

Oklahoma was among the states that did not receive a report and indicated on Twitter that it did not know why. “The cause for the delay is currently unknown,” Oklahoma’s health department wrote in a tweet

A spokesman for a state that received its report said he asked about the document via email and was sent it from Vice President Mike Pence’s office. The spokesman received no earlier instruction from the White House that he would need to request it.

The White House has never made the reports public, but until now it has sent them weekly to governors and some state health officials. The Center for Public Integrity is collecting and publishing them. The White House previously said it did not publish the documents because it wanted states to lead the pandemic response. 

The reports represent one of the primary forms of communication between the White House Coronavirus Task Force and states, other than occasional calls and cross-country tours from Dr. Deborah Birx, a leader of the task force. 

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

In the reports, the task force repeated its urgent advice from last week — that no one should gather maskless and indoors with others outside of their immediate household, that seniors should get groceries and medications delivered, that young people who gathered with others should assume they contracted the virus and isolate and get tested. 

“Warn about any gathering during December holidays,” the task force told governors.

The task force urged states to consider carefully who should be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines, saying that immunizing the elderly will save the most lives. The task force last week told governors that Americans need to remain vigilant because widespread vaccination will not happen until spring.

  1. Rhode Island
  2. Ohio
  3. North Dakota
  4. Indiana
  5. Tennessee
  6. Alaska
  7. Idaho
  8. Nevada
  9. South Dakota
  10. Kansas
  11. Utah
  12. Arizona
  13. Minnesota
  14. Delaware
  15. Pennsylvania
  16. New Mexico
  17. Nebraska
  18. California
  19. Wyoming
  20. Connecticut
  21. Oklahoma
  22. Kentucky
  23. Colorado
  24. Montana
  25. Wisconsin
  26. Alabama
  27. Illinois
  28. Massachusetts
  29. Arkansas
  30. West Virginia
  31. Mississippi
  32. New Hampshire
  33. Missouri
  34. Michigan
  35. North Carolina
  36. Iowa
  37. New Jersey
  38. South Carolina
  39. Louisiana
  40. New York
  41. Georgia
  42. Maryland
  43. Virginia
  44. Florida
  45. Texas 
  46. Washington
  47. District of Columbia
  48. Oregon
  49. Maine
  50. Vermont

The states in the red zone for test positivity in this week’s report (more than 10 percent of tests in the state were positive in the week prior):

  1. Nevada
  2. Idaho
  3. Oklahoma
  4. Kansas
  5. Nebraska
  6. Missouri
  7. Alabama
  8. Utah
  9. Arizona
  10. Montana
  11. Indiana
  12. Virginia
  13. Mississippi
  14. Pennsylvania
  15. Ohio
  16. South Dakota
  17. New Mexico
  18. Iowa
  19. New Hampshire
  20. South Carolina
  21. Texas
  22. Kentucky
  23. Michigan
  24. Georgia
  25. New Jersey
  26. Illinois
  27. Wyoming
  28. Wisconsin
  29. Arkansas
  30. Minnesota
  31. North Carolina
  32. Colorado
  33. West Virginia

The states in the red zone for deaths (more than two new deaths per 100,000 residents in the week prior): 

  1. Iowa
  2. North Dakota
  3. South Dakota
  4. Illinois
  5. Kansas
  6. Arkansas
  7. Wyoming
  8. Rhode Island
  9. Pennsylvania
  10. Colorado
  11. New Mexico
  12. Michigan
  13. Indiana
  14. Nebraska
  15. Minnesota
  16. West Virginia
  17. Montana
  18. Wisconsin
  19. Mississippi
  20. Nevada
  21. Idaho
  22. Tennessee
  23. Connecticut
  24. Missouri
  25. Alabama
  26. Massachusetts
  27. Arizona
  28. Louisiana
  29. Ohio
  30. New Jersey
  31. Texas
  32. Maryland
  33. Oklahoma
  34. Florida
  35. Oregon
  36. Utah
  37. Georgia
  38. Kentucky
  39. California
  40. New Hampshire
  41. North Carolina
  42. New York
  43. Delaware
  44. Vermont
  45. Virginia
  46. South Carolina
  47. Maine
  48. District of Columbia
  49. Alaska

The states in the red zone for COVID-19 hospital admissions (more than 15 new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100 beds in the week prior):

  1. Arizona
  2. Maryland
  3. Arkansas
  4. Kentucky
  5. New Mexico
  6. Pennsylvania
  7. Oklahoma
  8. District of Columbia
  9. Nevada
  10. Ohio
  11. Missouri
  12. Wisconsin
  13. California
  14. Illinois
  15. Georgia
  16. Indiana
  17. New Jersey
  18. Colorado
  19. Delaware
  20. Kansas
  21. Alabama
  22. Michigan
  23. Montana
  24. North Carolina
  25. Wyoming
  26. Virginia
  27. Connecticut
  28. Minnesota
  29. Tennessee
  30. Texas
  31. South Carolina
  32. Oregon
  33. West Virginia
  34. Nebraska
  35. South Dakota
  36. New Hampshire
  37. North Dakota
  38. New York

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