On August 31, Rep. James E. Clyburn, Chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, released eight weeks of White House Coronavirus Task Force reports obtained in response to the Select Subcommittee’s July 29, 2020, request to Vice President Mike Pence and White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx.
The Select Subcommittee says these reports—which the White House sent privately to states but did not disclose to the public—directly contradict the Administration’s rosy public statements downplaying the threat of the virus.
“The Task Force reports released today show the White House has known since June that coronavirus cases were surging across the country and many states were becoming dangerous ‘red zones’ where the virus was spreading fast,” said Chairman Clyburn. “Rather than being straight with the American people and creating a national plan to fix the problem, the President and his enablers kept these alarming reports private while publicly downplaying the threat to millions of Americans. As a result of the President’s failures, more than 58,000 additional Americans have died since the Task Force first started issuing private warnings, and many of the Task Force’s recommendations still have not been implemented. It is long past time that the Administration finally implement a national plan to contain this crisis, which is still killing hundreds of Americans each day.”
The eight White House Coronavirus Task Force reports released on August 31 were issued from June 23, 2020, through August 9, 2020:
- June 23 Report. On June 16, Vice President Pence claimed in an op-ed that “panic” over a resurgence of coronavirus infections was “overblown.” But on June 23, the White House Task Force concluded that seven states were in the “red zone,” indicating the highest risk of coronavirus spread. The Task Force found new cases were up 70 percent in Arizona, 72 percent in Texas, 87 percent in Florida, 93 percent in Oklahoma, and 134 percent in Idaho.
- June 29 Report. On June 26, Vice President Pence stated: “All 50 states are opening up safely and responsibly.” But the Task Force warned on June 29 that “Mississippi reported an 117% increase in new cases in the week ending June 26, resulting from increased community transmission in multiple counties attributed to reduced social distancing.” The report found that 10 states were in the “red zone,” with “significant” increases in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas.
- July 5 Report. On July 7, President Trump claimed, “We’ve done a good job. I think we are going to be in two, three, four weeks, by the time we next speak, I think we’re going to be in very good shape.” Yet just two days earlier, the Task Force found 15 states were in the “red zone.” The report said Florida “has seen a significant increase in new cases and a significant increase in testing positivity over the past week continuing from the previous 4 weeks.”
- July 14 Report. On July 14, President Trump stated, “No other country tests like us. In fact, I could say it’s working too much. It’s working too well. We’re doing testing and we’re finding thousands and thousands of cases.” The same day, the Task Force concluded 19 states were in the “red zone” and recommended they increase testing. The report noted, “Disease trends are moving in the wrong direction in Georgia with record numbers of new cases occurring in urban, suburban and rural areas. Testing positivity continues to increase. The number of tests has increased, but more testing is needed.”
- July 19 Report. On July 19, President Trump claimed, “It’s going to disappear and I’ll be right.” The July 19 Task Force report indicated 20 states were in the “red zone.” The report warned that “South Carolina is experiencing broad community spread across the state, with multiple rural and urban counties experiencing significant increase in cases.”
- July 26 Report. On July 21, President Trump tweeted: “You will never hear this on the Fake News concerning the China Virus, but by comparison to most other countries, who are suffering greatly, we are doing very well – and we have done things that few other countries could have done!” On July 26, the Task Force reported 22 states were in the “red zone,” and stated: “Georgia is experiencing widespread community spread without evidence of improvement. Improvement will require much more aggressive mitigation efforts to change the trajectory of the pandemic in Georgia.”
- August 2 Report. In a July 28 interview, President Trump stated: “They are dying, that’s true. And you have — it is what it is. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can. It’s under control as much as you can control it.” On August 2, the Task Force concluded 23 states were in the “red zone.” The report noted, “Widespread transmission continues to occur from rural to urban areas” in Louisiana; “Aggressive continuation of mitigation efforts will be required” in South Carolina due to “widespread community spread throughout the state in urban, periurban, and rural areas”; and, “The virus is spreading deeper into the rural areas” of Oklahoma.
- August 9 Report. On August 3, President Trump tweeted: “Cases up because of BIG Testing! Much of our Country is doing very well. Open the Schools!” On August 9, the Task Force reported that 48 states and the District of Columbia were in either red or yellow zones. In Indiana, the Task Force warned: “Cases continue at a high plateau in Indianapolis and mitigation efforts, testing, and contact tracing need to be aggressively implemented. COVID-19 is widespread throughout the state and mitigation efforts should be statewide.”
The Select Subcommittee’s investigation shows that many states are still failing to comply with key Task Force recommendations, including some recommendations first made nearly two months ago. On July 29, the Select Subcommittee sent requests to several states with significant recent outbreaks that are not following this guidance, including Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. In response, these states acknowledged receiving the Task Force’s private reports and recommendations but did not commit to implementing additional public health measures recommended by the Task Force to stop the spread of the virus. For example:
- Georgia currently ranks second in the nation for the highest rate of new infections, and the Task Force recently called for “Increasing mitigation efforts.” Yet rather than take responsibility for the surge in cases and take steps to address it, Governor Kemp blamed the state’s residents in a letter to the Subcommittee. He claimed “many grew complacent” and asserted, “Summer holidays coupled with televised protests caused many to let their guard down and abandon guidance provided by public health officials.”
- Florida currently ranks third in the nation for new coronavirus cases and for fatalities. The Task Force has recommended since June 29 that Florida implement a mask mandate statewide or in all hot zone counties “to ensure consistent mask usage,” but Governor DeSantis has refused. In a letter to the Subcommittee, the state asserted that it has taken “extraordinary steps to serve and protect our citizens as event evolve,” but did not indicate the governor plans to follow the steps recommended by the White House Task Force.
- Tennessee Governor Lee has disregarded repeated recommendations from the Task Force and from Dr. Birx to implement a statewide mask mandate and close bars and limit indoor dining at restaurants in all red and yellow zones. In a letter to the Subcommittee, Governor Lee failed to take responsibility for the state’s increase in cases and deaths this summer, asserting instead that the state’s response has “served Tennessee well” and saying Tennessee residents are “thankful” to President Trump.
- The Task Force has repeatedly recommended that Oklahoma require mask usage statewide, and evidence shows that local mask mandates have successfully reduced the spread of new infections. However, in letters to the Subcommittee, Governor Stitt said his state was addressing the pandemic “without a statewide mask mandate” and that the state government had only “recommended face coverings” in certain counties.
The Select Subcommittee reports that fourteen states that have been in the “red zone” since June 23 have refused to impose statewide mask mandates per Task Force’s recommendations—including states with severe case spikes like Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Two states—Iowa and Nebraska—have attempted to ban local jurisdictions from imposing mask mandates, and Georgia only recently reversed a similar ban and dropped a lawsuit aimed at invalidating mask ordinances instituted by the city of Atlanta.
The Task Force reports released on August 31 recommend that state and local governments implement heightened public health measures to combat the spread of the virus—including requiring face masks in public, closing bars and gyms, and strictly limiting gatherings on a statewide basis in certain states. Yet the Select Subcommittee finds that the Trump Administration has failed to publicly support most of the Task Force’s recommendations. For example, President Trump has refused to call for a nationwide mask mandate.
The Administration has also refused to make the Task Force’s reports and recommendations available to the public. Instead, the Task Force has privately issued the reports to states and held periodic calls and meetings with state and local officials that are closed to the public.
The Select Subcommittee says the Task Force’s reports also have been kept secret from some local government and public health officials who need them.