The White House has been aware for more than a month that coronavirus cases have been surging nationwide as President Donald Trump has publicly downplayed the virus and held crowded events, according to private documents obtained and released Tuesday by a key House committee.
Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), chair of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, released six weekly White House coronavirus task force reports showing that the White House has known since just after Labor Day that COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing and that there is a serious need for more testing and mask mandates.
But the White House chose to hide these reports, according to Clyburn, as Trump publicly claimed in September the coronavirus “affects virtually nobody” and hosted potential superspreader events in states the task force warned had spikes in cases, including Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Carolina.
Until now, the task force reports were shared privately with state governments but were not disclosed to the public.
The reports show that White House officials watched as the number of states in the “red zone” ― a region with newly diagnosed COVID-19 case rates above 100 per 100,000 people over the previous week, and lab test positivity results above 10% ― jumped from 18 to 31 between Sept. 13 and Oct. 18.
The reports also show a dangerous disconnect between the task force’s findings and Trump’s actions. In its Sept. 20 report, the task force warned the number of states in the “red zone” had ticked up to 18. Wisconsin was seeing a particularly high increase in positive cases, at 145%. Yet, Trump scheduled two rallies in the state for Oct. 1. At the last minute, one was canceled and the other was postponed after the president tested positive for COVID-19.
By Oct. 18, the task force reported that 31 states were in the “red zone.” A day later, Trump told campaign staffers on a call, “People are tired of COVID. ... People are saying, ‘Whatever. Just leave us alone.’ They’re tired of it. People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots,” referring to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci.
The task force calls for more testing in all 50 states, contradicting Trump’s claim that he has “done too good a job” on testing. It also urges “red zone” states to put mask mandates in place, as governors in some of those states ignore the recommendations and embrace Trump’s false claims that “there’s a lot of problems with masks” and “85% of the people that wear masks catch it.”
“The White House reports released today show that President Trump’s contempt for science and refusal to lead during this crisis have allowed the coronavirus to surge,” Clyburn said in a statement. “Contrary to his empty claims that the country is ‘rounding the turn,’ more states are now in the ‘red zone’ than ever before. ... It is long past time that the Administration implement a national plan to contain this crisis, which is still killing hundreds of Americans each day and could get even worse in the months ahead.”
You can read the six task force reports, dated Aug. 16 through Sept. 20, at the links below:
Aug. 16, 2020
White House spokesperson Judd Deere accused Clyburn of misrepresenting Trump’s response to the coronavirus crisis.
“In the midst of an ongoing pandemic, some members of Congress have chosen to irresponsibly issue a partisan statements [sic] completely for the purpose of falsely distorting the President’s record to protect the health and safety of the American people and save millions of lives,” Deere said in a statement. “The Coronavirus Task Force has been providing tailored recommendations to individual states for months encouraging 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.”
A spokeswoman for Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the White House coronavirus task force, did not respond to a request for comment.
But a White House aide who would only speak without being named said Pence has told state leaders to “feel free to share [the reports] as widely as you want to.”
More than 220,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and more than 8.2 million have tested positive, according to Johns Hopkins’ Coronavirus Resource Center.
Renowned infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm said Sunday that “the next six to 12 weeks are going to be the darkest of the entire pandemic” and raised concerns about the lack of leadership on the issue.
“When I was on this show last on Sept. 13, we had 33,000 cases reported that day,” Osterholm said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Friday, we had 70,000 cases, matching the largest number we had seen back during the really serious peak in July. That number, we’re going to blow right through that.”
“This is more than just science,” he added. “This is bringing people together to understand, why are we doing this? This is an FDR fireside chat approach. And we’re just not doing that.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said Trump held two rallies in Wisconsin on Oct. 1. In fact, one of those events was canceled and another was postponed.
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