As Trump Downplayed Coronavirus, His Task Force Warned Of ‘Red Zone’ States Like NC

As Trump Downplayed Coronavirus, His Task Force Warned Of ‘Red Zone’ States Like NC

Image via AP Photo/Alex Brandon

By Billy Ball

August 31, 2020

Members of Congress released eight weeks of confidential White House reports Monday that they say show Trump downplayed the virus for political gain. 

Since July, officials in the Trump administration have warned states like North Carolina that it falls within the high-risk “red zone” for coronavirus outbreaks, even as the president and vice president publicly downplayed the virus’ risk. 

That’s one key takeaway from a series of documents released Monday by legislators on a US House coronavirus committee. Politico reported on their release Monday. 

The reports from the White House coronavirus task force were kept confidential by the White House, Politico reports, with Democrats arguing that they indicate President Donald Trump’s administration was “acting over the summer to willfully cover up public health risks for political gain.”

The most recent report released, issued Aug. 2, counted 23 states, including North Carolina (beginning on page 298), in the “red zone.” That means more than 100 new cases per 100,000 in the population. 

The state also landed in the report’s “yellow zone” for case positivity, meaning it fell between 5-10%. NC’s percentage of tests returning positive was 8.8% at the time of the report. Today, it is about 7.2%.

The Trump administration report in August also listed “red zone” localities such as Mecklenburg County, the Hickory and Morganton region, Fayetteville, Wilmington.

Recommendations for the state included an emphasis on social distancing and wearing masks, although Trump spoke during the Republican National Convention last week to a crowd of mostly unmasked observers, including Sen. Thom Tillis, who has been a consistent advocate for wearing masks during the pandemic. Over the weekend, Tillis apologized for not wearing a mask. 

Gov. Roy Cooper issued a mandatory mask rule in June as the state’s coronavirus cases surged.

According to the White House reports, NC first entered the “red zone” on its July 14 report.

The congressional committee has called on the White House to make their COVID-19 reports public sooner, Politico reported.

NC’s coronavirus cases have stabilized in recent weeks, although the state has confirmed 167,000 confirmed infections since the spring.

Officials blamed an Aug. 29 surge in new cases on reporting delays from LabCorp, which submitted approximately 1,000 new cases dating back to the first half of the month. In a release last week, the NC Department of Health and Human Services said it was assured by LabCorp that individuals were not delayed in receiving results however. 

The virus has killed 2,702 in the state. 

“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,” Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the congressional subcommittee’s chair, said in a statement reported by Politico Monday. 

“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.”

The outlet reported that the documents show several states “failed to implement public health recommendations the task force made more than two months ago — including mask mandates, closing bars and banning large gatherings — and that the administration has made little effort to enforce its guidance or make the same recommendations publicly.”

Cardinal & Pine reported on a “red zone” designation for NC in July too, as the state was consistently setting highs for new cases reported in a single day. 

“Makes me angry,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the Obama administration, posted on Twitter at the time. “There is absolutely NO legitimate reason for this information — and much better information — not to be publicly available, in real time, RIGHT NOW for every community in the United States, every day.” 


  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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