Twenty-four states are in the “red zone” for new coronavirus cases, according to documents the White House Coronavirus Task Force distributes to governors every week but does not publish. States in the middle of the country — North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Montana, and Utah — topped the list.
The Center for Public Integrity obtained the weekly reports, which it first revealed in July. The Trump administration has been withholding them from the public. In July, 18 states were in the red zone, with more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents.
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The task force, in its most recent reports, emphasized the need for masks and testing. “Masks must be worn indoors in all public settings, and group gathering sizes should be limited,” the task force told red-zone Kansas, where most counties have opted out of a statewide mask mandate.
The Oct. 4 report to Idaho appears to be the first time the task force has explicitly recommended closing schools: “Recommend change to online K-12 classes in counties and metro areas with elevated test positivity and incidence among school-age children and increasing hospital utilization,” the White House advised, noting that outbreaks in 10 Idaho counties may be related to school openings. The Trump administration championed opening schools this summer, and the task force reports previously generally avoided the topic of K-12 education.
But the task force didn’t recommend the steps it advised for red zone states earlier in the pandemic, such as closing bars and limiting gatherings to 10 people or fewer. Last month, the Democrat-led House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis criticized the task force for watering down its recommendations over time.
Only one state, Vermont, was in the green zone for cases in the most recent report, with just six new cases per 100,000 residents in the last week.
The White House earlier told Public Integrity that it was not releasing the reports because the pandemic response should be state-led and federally supported. “The United States will not be shut down again,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in August.
Since then, Public Integrity has contacted officials in all 50 states weekly to obtain the reports. Governors and health officials in 13 states — Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia — have refused to share any so far or have not responded to repeated inquiries to multiple officials. The White House has said that states are free to share the reports if they want to.
The 24 states in the red zone are:
1. North Dakota
2. South Dakota
24. South Carolina
Note: This story has been updated to reflect the information contained in the Oct. 4 Idaho report.