As states in the South and Southwest grapple with how to control the spread of the coronavirus, officials on President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force cautioned the nation’s governors Tuesday that a new set of states is beginning to experience an uptick in positive cases and recommended that local leaders implement mask mandates and close bars to contain the outbreaks.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator for the task force, said the positivity rate in states such as Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, and Colorado was increasing and warned they should quickly take action before they fall into what she described as the “red COVID zones” category. Birx defined the red zones as those states with more than 100 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people and more than a 10 percent test positivity rate.
“By the time you see hospitalizations, your community spread is so wide that you’ve flipped into a red state incredibly quickly,” Birx said, according to a recording of the call obtained by The Daily Beast. “By the time you see it, up to 80 or 90 percent of your county already has more than 10 percent positivity rate.”
The warnings from Birx and other task force officials come as the administration is pushing states across the country to reopen schools, a point Vice President Mike Pence reiterated on the call.
Pence said the task force would support whatever decision state leaders make but that the team was beginning to see evidence that “encouraging masks,” closing bars, and limiting indoor gatherings were slowing the spread in some of the hot spot states. Birx was more explicit with her advice, saying that the “100 percent mask mandates” played a significant role in containing the virus in those states.
Trump in the past has resisted mask wearing and said in a Fox News interview this month that he would not impose a national mask mandate. On Monday, Trump retweeted a video shared by his son Donald Trump Jr. that featured a doctor saying masks were unnecessary. Twitter restricted Donald Trump Jr.’s account and removed the video from the platform.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top vaccine official, was also on the call with governors and said states should adhere to Birx’s recommendations even if it wasn’t politically expedient to do so.
“You may be reluctant to do that because the general population is saying, ‘Wait a minute, we’re not that bad,’” Fauci said, referring to the advice of implementing mask mandates and restricting large gatherings of people. “You are worse than you think you are because where you are now is going to be reflected and what you are going to see… weeks from now. I know it may sound intrusive but it really isn’t.”