Coronavirus and Inequality

Published — October 28, 2020

White House data contradicts the president’s claims on the coronavirus

Artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg walks among thousands of white flags planted in remembrance of Americans who have died of COVID-19. Firstenberg's temporary art installation in Washington, D.C., called "In America, How Could This Happen," will include an estimated 240,000 flags when completed. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Thirty-two states are now in the red zone for cases, task force reports show.

Introduction

New data from President Donald Trump’s own White House, sent to governors but not made public, shows that he was wrong on Monday when he claimed in a tweet that coronavirus cases are rising because of increased testing.

In fact, the White House Coronavirus Task Force reports show that testing was slightly down nationwide over the last week, while the number of cases and the percentage of positive tests were up. The reports, dated Sunday, were sent to governors Tuesday evening.

The nation conducted roughly 6.7 million tests last week, compared to 7.1 million the week before, according to estimates from the federal Department of Health and Human Services contained in the White House reports. Yet test positivity rose nationwide, as did the number of new cases, as the Upper Midwest and mountain states led the nation to a third peak in the pandemic.

“You cannot say that you’re detecting more cases because you’re doing more testing if you’re doing less testing,” said Harvard epidemiologist Bill Hanage. “You should not respond to a clear and present threat by putting your fingers in your ears, shutting your eyes and going, ‘La la la.’“

Thirty-two states are now in the red zone for coronavirus cases, the White House said in the new reports — one more than in last week’s reports. Florida was the addition. It is likely the most states in the red zone ever, but that’s unclear because the public has not been able to gain access to the report for one week in September.

Seventeen states are in the red zone for deaths, four more than last week, according to the White House. A dozen states are in the red zone for percentage of positive tests, four more than last week.

The White House task force continued to offer less specific and less strict recommendations to states than in the reports it issued during the summer, even as it outlined the grave situation some places face. 

The Oct. 25 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)

“Efforts must intensify,” the task force told North Dakota, which leads the nation in cases and deaths per capita and where 13 percent of nursing homes had at least one resident die from COVID-19 in the past week. “Both North and South Dakota have the highest percent of the population infected … and with the missed silent infections, 20% of the population may have been infected.”

The task force repeated its warnings that family gatherings were driving the spread of the virus and urged citizens to avoid Halloween and Thanksgiving get-togethers, or at least wear masks when indoors with people outside their households. 

“In advance of the holidays, develop educational campaigns across all media platforms (including SMS) to educate residents and recommend avoidance of all such gatherings, especially for older individuals and those at risk for severe disease,” the White House advised Utah.

The task force reports obtained so far by the Center for Public Integrity this week said little about the risks of hospitals being overwhelmed, even as reports emerge from Idaho, Texas, Utah and other states that some places are running out of hospital beds due to a surge of coronavirus patients.

The White House does not publish the task force’s state reports. Public Integrity now collects them from states and publishes them weekly, though some governors refuse to share them.

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



According to the Oct. 25 reports from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, states in the red zone for new coronavirus cases per capita (more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents):

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

States in the red zone for test positivity (more than 10% of diagnostic tests are positive):

  1. Montana
  2. Idaho
  3. Utah
  4. South Dakota
  5. Nebraska
  6. Wisconsin
  7. North Dakota
  8. Oklahoma
  9. Kansas
  10. Missouri
  11. Iowa
  12. Tennessee

States in the red zone for new deaths per capita (more than two new deaths per 100,000 residents): 

  1. North Dakota
  2. South Dakota
  3. Montana
  4. Arkansas
  5. Kansas
  6. Missouri
  7. South Carolina
  8. Indiana
  9. Iowa
  10. Tennessee
  11. Wisconsin
  12. Mississippi
  13. Florida
  14. Rhode Island
  15. Nebraska
  16. Idaho
  17. Kentucky

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