As Coronavirus Surges, Select Subcommittee Releases White House Reports Contradicting President Trump on Testing, Masks
Washington, D.C. (October 20, 2020) — Today, Rep. James E. Clyburn, Chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, released six weeks of White House Coronavirus Task Force reports obtained by the Select Subcommittee. These reports—which were shared privately with state governments each week but not disclosed to the public—reveal that the White House has been aware for more than a month of an alarming rise in cases nationwide and the need for more testing and mask mandates to save American lives—even as the President has continued to publicly downplay the crisis and hold crowded events contributing to the virus’s spread.
Chairman Clyburn stated: “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 across the United States. Contrary to his empty claims that the country is ‘rounding the turn,’ more states are now in the ‘red zone’ than ever before. These reports—which the White House sent privately to governors but withheld from the public—show that President Trump’s false rhetoric on testing and masks is hindering our nation’s response, and many states are refusing to take critical steps recommended by the Task Force. 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.”
Private Reports Urge All 50 States to Increase Testing, Contradicting the President
The Task Force reports released today confirm that current testing levels are too low to contain the virus, contrary to the President’s claim that the country has “done too good a job” on testing. On September 20, 2020, the Task Force called for all 50 states to increase testing, lab capacity, or testing surveillance activities. For example:
· The Task Force called on 11 states—including Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Tennessee—to “Dramatically increase testing at universities to quickly find and quarantine on-campus cases and prevent spread in surrounding community.” The Task Force warned Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and Virginia that “Focusing on universities and decreasing community spread from students to local communities and hometowns is critical.”
· The Task Force urged 12 states—including Louisiana, Missouri, and South Carolina—to “increase testing capacity by increasing the budget and capacity of public health labs,” and urged Hawaii to “Ensure all public health labs are staffed and running at maximum capacity.” The Task Force recommended that six states—including North Dakota, Texas, and Virginia—“utilize all university, veterinary, and research platforms for surveillance and testing of students and, if needed, the surrounding communities.” The reports called on 35 states—including Idaho, South Dakota, and West Virginia—to use pooled testing, including wastewater testing, to expand surveillance efforts.
· The Task Force stressed the importance of quick turnaround times for test processing, telling North Carolina that “Successful mitigation efforts require that test results are available within 48 hours” and recommending that Alaska, Maine, Montana, and Utah notify people of their test results and start contact tracing within 48 hours. Similarly, North Dakota, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia were told, “Ensure quick turnaround times for results and the rapid isolation of cases and quarantine of contacts.”
The Task Force has continued to recommend that states increase testing in more recent reports that have been leaked to the public, including the Task Force’s October 11 reports for North Dakota, Ohio, Idaho, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado.
Task Force Calls for Mask Mandates, But the President and Some Governors Are Resisting
The private reports released today urge several “red zone” states to implement mask mandates. However, some governors are ignoring these recommendations, choosing instead to follow President Trump’s inaccurate public claims that “there’s a lot of problems with masks,” and “85% of the people that wear masks catch it.”
- Nebraska: On September 13, the Task Force warned: “Without statewide mask requirements, Nebraska will continue to stay at high levels of community transmission in rural and urban areas. COVID-19 is introduced in nursing homes from community transmission.” Yet Governor Ricketts has refused to implement a statewide mask mandate. The state was ranked number five in the country for both new cases and for test positivity in the Task Force’s October 18 report. Cases are up 62% and deaths are up 77% in the past two weeks.
- Tennessee: The Task Force’s September 13 report recommended: “Establish statewide mask mandate. COVID-19 is being brought into nursing homes through community transmission.” Governor Lee refused and instead signed an order repealing many coronavirus-related restrictions effective October 1. The state remains in the “red zone,” and cases are up 46% in the past two weeks.
- Florida: On September 20, the Task Force wrote that Florida “should continue the strong mitigation efforts statewide and strengthen mitigation efforts in university towns,” and, “Mitigation efforts must continue including mask wearing, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and avoiding all crowds.” Five days later, on September 25, Governor DeSantis took the opposite approach, signing an order lifting most coronavirus-related restrictions across the state, including ending occupancy restrictions on restaurants and bars and repealing fines for violating social distancing and local mask mandates. Cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have recently started to rise again in Florida—with cases up 25% over the past two weeks.
Reports Show the Virus Has Been Surging for Weeks, Despite the President’s Denials
The reports released today, along with other leaked reports, show the White House has been aware since just after Labor Day that cases were rising dramatically around the country. The White House chose to hide these reports even as President Trump claimed publicly that the coronavirus “affects virtually nobody” and hosted potential superspreading events in states the Task Force warned had rising cases, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Carolina.
- September 13 Report: 18 states are in the “red zone” for new cases or for test positivity. The Task Force warned that “Wisconsin has seen an increase in new cases and an increase in test positivity over the last week. Virus transmission is seen in all areas of the state” with sharp increases around University of Wisconsin campuses. Four days later, on September 17, President Trump held a large, potentially superspreading rally in Wisconsin.
- September 20 Report: 18 states are in the “red zone.” Cases were up 49% in North Dakota, 65% in Arkansas, 76% in Utah, and 145% in Wisconsin. On October 1, the President held two more rallies in Wisconsin.
- September 27 Report: At least 22 states are in the “red zone.” The Task Force warned Iowa: “Test positivity and case rates have been sustained at the highest levels during the past four weeks, putting Iowa in a vulnerable position going into the fall and winter. Transmission is statewide with new hospital admissions increasing.” The report recommended: “Institute mask requirements statewide with reduced capacity for indoor dining and bars” and “Rapidly scale up testing.” The President stated on October 1, “The end of the pandemic is in sight.”
- October 4 Report: 24 states are in the “red zone.” In Idaho, more than 80% of tests came back positive for 18-24 year-olds in Latah County, home of University of Idaho. The Task Force warned, “Rapidly increasing cases and test positivity among 12-17 year-olds in many counties … suggests outbreaks in those counties may be related to school openings” and recommended that Idaho “change to online K-12 classes” and “switch to online institutions of higher education (IHE) activities” in hard-hit areas. On October 15, the President said of the coronavirus: “It happens. People have it, and it goes. Get the kids back to school. We’ve got to get them back to school.”
- October 11 Report: 27 states are in the “red zone.” North Dakota had the highest rate of new cases in the country. The report warned, “There are continued concerning signs with sustained high test positivity, increasing cases, and new daily hospitalizations” and urged: “North Dakota should expand and ensure compliance with the strong stated mitigation efforts statewide.” Two days later, on October 13, President Trump claimed the United States is “rounding the turn” on the pandemic.
- October 18 Report: 31 states are in the “red zone.” On October 19, President Trump claimed: “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.”
The nation now has more states in the “red zone” than at any time since the Task Force started issuing reports on June 23, 2020.
On August 31, 2020, the Select Subcommittee released eight weeks of Task Force reports, dated June 23, 2020, to August 9, 2020, which were obtained by the Subcommittee in response to its July 29, 2020, request to Vice President Mike Pence and Dr. Deborah Birx. The reports directly contradicted the Administration’s rosy public statements downplaying the threat of the virus.
On September 16, 2020, the Select Subcommittee sent a follow-up letter to Vice President Pence and Dr. Birx urging them to release all Task Force reports and revealing that recent Task Force recommendations appeared to have been watered down, even in states where spread of the virus was increasing.
Today, the Select Subcommittee is releasing reports dated from August 16, 2020, through September 20, 2020: