Coronavirus and Inequality

Published — December 8, 2020

In worst coronavirus surge yet, task force urges return to strict social distancing

Daisha Graf, 34, pauses for photos wearing a face mask with a message that reads "If you can read this, you're too close," in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

White House calls for “no indoor gatherings outside of immediate households.”


The country’s worst coronavirus surge is threatening hospitals’ ability to treat patients, but Americans and states still aren’t acting like it, the White House Coronavirus Task Force warned in its most recent weekly report.

The Trump administration keeps the reports largely secret, sharing them with governors but not with the public. But the task force is still trying to paint for Americans the dire picture of the country’s cases and hospitalizations.

“This current fall to winter surge continues to spread to every corner of the US,” the task force wrote to several states. “This surge is the most rapid increase in cases; the widest spread of intense transmission, with more than 2,000 counties in COVID red zones; and the longest duration of rapid increase, now entering its 8th week, that we have experienced.”

And states are still not doing enough, the task force said. 

“Despite the severity of this surge and the threat to hospital systems, many state and local governments are not implementing the same mitigation policies that stemmed the tide of the summer surge,” the task force wrote. “Mitigation efforts must increase … including masking, physical distancing, hand hygiene, no indoor gatherings outside of immediate households, and aggressive testing.”

Every state but Hawaii is now in the White House’s red zone for new coronavirus cases, meaning they had more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past week. Thirty-four states are in the red zone for test positivity, with more than 10 percent of tests coming back positive. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia were in the red zone for deaths, with more than two per 100,000 residents in the past week. 

The task force also added a new metric to this week’s reports: 37 states are in the red zone for new hospital admissions. Each had more than 15 new hospital admissions per 100 beds. Maryland, Arkansas and Oklahoma led the nation in new admissions per beds.

“The population and healthcare system must do everything possible to limit further holiday-related disease surges and prevent overrunning hospital capacity and avoidable deaths,” the task force told Maryland

White House coronavirus task force red zone report from Dec. 6, 2020 shows 49 states are currently in the red zone during this recent surge.
The Dec. 6 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)

The White House experts recommended more masking, more physical distancing and more testing of asymptomatic people, warning that vaccines won’t arrive soon enough to help those killed in the current outbreaks.

“The current vaccine implementation will not substantially reduce viral spread, hospitalizations, or fatalities until the 100 million Americans with comorbidities can be fully immunized, which will take until the late spring,” it wrote. “Behavioral change and aggressive mitigation policies are the only widespread prevention tools that we have to address this winter surge.”

Task force officials are eyeing Christmas: “Begin warning about any gathering during December holidays,” it told Alabama in bold type.

The White House has said it does not make the reports public because it wants states to lead the response to the pandemic. The Center for Public Integrity is collecting and publishing them.

The states in the red zone for cases in this week’s report (meaning they had more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents in the week prior):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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