Virus Outbreak Trump Dr. Anthony Fauci of the Trump White House's coronavirus task force
Image via AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Researchers question why the Trump White House did not publish the report, which recommends strict social distancing guidelines in NC and 17 other states.

As the state set records Saturday for new coronavirus cases and tests in one day, an unpublished White House report surfaced that listed North Carolina and 17 other states as high-risk virus hotspots.

The White House document was obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit Washington, D.C. news organization, which published it Thursday.

The report, dated July 14 and prepared for the White House Coronavirus Task Force but withheld from publication, says 18 states are in the red zone, meaning they had more than 100 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people last week.

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In addition to North Carolina, the states are Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

The document also places 11 states in a red zone for test positivity, meaning more than 10 percent of COVID test results came back positive. North Carolina is not among this group of states, which includes Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas and Washington.  

The report emerged three days before the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported an additional 2,481 cases of the virus, surpassing the previous record of 2,462 set the previous Saturday. Also on Saturday, 35,169 COVID-19 tests were completed, setting another single-day record, and bringing the state’s total of tests to 1.3 million.

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As of Sunday, North Carolina reported 99,778 COVID-19 cases, with 1,115 hospitalizations and 1,634 deaths.

While the White House report placed North Carolina in the red zone for cases, it also came close to listing the state among the red zone for percent positives too. Red zone states, the document cautioned, should consider implementing stricter policies to stem the spread of COVID-19.

‘It will be interesting to see if governors and local officials heed the White House’s advice.’

Recommendations in the report listed for North Carolina including keeping bars and gyms closed, capping restaurant seating capacity at 25% and limiting public gatherings to no more than ten people.

“It will be interesting to see if governors and local officials heed the White House’s advice,” Liz Essley Whyte, The Center for Public Integrity reporter who broke the story about the document, told Cox Media Group

The report’s recommendations, along with North Carolina’s record number of new COVID-19 cases, came as state, local and school officials took steps to reduce the spread of the virus. 

Last Tuesday, N.C. Governor Roy Cooper extended the duration of Phase 2 of his administration’s plan to gradually reopen North Carolina’s economy, at least through Aug. 7. 

Twelve school districts, including Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Durham and Orange County have opted to employ remote-only instruction when school starts up in August, until infection rates come down. 

The News & Observer reported that Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin announced Friday that the city will cut off alcohol sales at 11 p.m. starting as early as Monday to stem the spread of COVID-19.

In an email shared with The Charlotte Observer Wednesday, Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio told city and county officials that Charlotte will also ban alcohol sales after 10 p.m. in unincorporated parts of Mecklenburg County: Charlotte, Davidson, Matthews and Mint Hill. 

The NC DHHS told Cox Media Group that it is glad the state is doing many of the things the report suggests like keeping bars and gyms closed. 

On Friday, some scientists expressed dismay that the Trump administration had not publicly released the document. 

“The fact that [the report is] not public makes no sense to me,” Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told the Center for Public Integrity. “Why are we hiding this information from the American people? This should be published and updated every day.”

“Makes me angry,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the Obama administration, posted on Twitter. “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.” 

On C-Span Friday Morning, Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway questioned whether the report published by the Center for Public Integrity was factual.

Conway called the 30-year-old, nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative newsroom, “an outside organization that I’m sure doesn’t support the president’s election.”