WASHINGTON — A report prepared for the White House coronavirus task force indicates that more than a dozen U.S. states are in what's considered to be the "red zone" for COVID-19 cases.
The 359-page document was dated July 14 and obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit newsroom in Washington, D.C. The report states that 18 states were listed at the time in the "red zone," which means a state had more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population last week.
To slow the spread of coronavirus, the report suggests that counties in the red zone should "revert to more stringent protective measures, limiting social gatherings to 10 people or fewer, closing bars and gyms and asking residents to wear masks at all times."
The list of states in the "red zone" for cases included Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.
The document added that 10 out of the 18 red zone states last week also qualified for the “red zone” for test positivity, meaning more than 10 percent of diagnostic test results came back positive. Those states were Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas, Washington.
CNN reported that Devin O'Malley, spokesman for Vice President Mike Pence and the task force, didn't dispute the document's authenticity when asked about it. He claimed to CNN the report showed "encouraging signs" because a few weeks ago there had been 16 states meeting the criteria for rising cases and rising positivity rate, while the report in question has only 10.
The Center for Public Integrity said that the report had been shared within the federal government, but not posted publicly.
"The fact that it's not public makes no sense to me," Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told the Center for Public Integrity on Thursday. "Why are we hiding this information from the American people? This should be published and updated every day."
Many of the governors leading states with the highest rising numbers had refused to mandate masks in public or prevented local officials doing so. While a number of them have reversed course — including Arkansas’ Republican governor — and at least 25 states now have mask rules, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp banned cities and counties from requiring face coverings and then sued Atlanta to prevent the city from defying his order.
Georgia's capital and 14 other cities had ordered masks be worn, but the Republican governor has maintained that no local directive can be more or less restrictive than his statewide mandates.
“How can we take care of our local needs when our state ties our hands behind our back and then says, ‘Ignore the advice of experts?’” Savannah Mayor Van Johnson told reporters. He later added: “If you don’t want to protect us, then allow us the opportunity to protect ourselves.”
The U.S. for the first time recorded more than 77,300 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in a single day Thursday. Record numbers of confirmed infections and deaths emerged again in states in the South and West, with hospitals stretched to the brink and fears worldwide that the pandemic's resurgence is only getting started.
Johns Hopkins University report of new coronavirus Thursday was 10,000 more cases than were recorded on Wednesday.
For perspective, more than 160 countries have yet to record 70,000 total cases during the entire pandemic, according to JHU.
Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Tuesday that the U.S. could bring the virus under control in four to eight weeks if there was universal mask usage.
He added that because of the combination of the coronavirus and the flu, "the fall and the winter of 2020 and 2021 are going to be probably one of the most difficult times that we've experienced in American public health."
The CDC says cloth face coverings can "help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people when the person wearing the cloth face covering coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice." It recommends anyone over the age of 2 wear a face covering in public settings, especially when social distancing cannot be maintained.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.