White House coronavirus task force warns of ‘unstable’ data during the holidays

Dec 29, 2020, 5:02 PM
FILE - In this Nov. 24, 2020, file photo, registered nurse Chrissie Burkhiser works in the emergenc...
FILE - In this Nov. 24, 2020, file photo, registered nurse Chrissie Burkhiser works in the emergency room at Scotland County Hospital in Memphis, Mo. Scientists say there is reason for concern but not alarm about new strains of the coronavirus, especially the one currently spreading in England. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The White House coronavirus task force warned states of incomplete and “unstable” COVID-19 data due to the ongoing holiday season, making it difficult to track the pandemic’s trajectory as concerns rise over continued or accelerated spread.

“Data are currently unstable, outside of daily hospital admissions, due to inconsistent reporting and incomplete data over the holidays; there will be a reporting ‘surge’ in cases and deaths as reporting catches up,” the task force said in multiple reports sent to state officials dated December 27 and obtained by CNN.

As travelers break pandemic air travel records across the country this week, task force officials, including US Surgeon General Jerome Adams and Dr. Anthony Fauci, have expressed concern about a surge upon a surge. This week’s reports, however, suggested it may be difficult to immediately observe that in the data in some places.

“The East and West Coasts, Sunbelt, Tennessee, and West Virginia were in full winter surge, so it will be difficult to see the surge on top of the current, continued deterioration,” the reports said.

And while there has been improvement of cases in “most of the Upper Midwest, Northern Plains, and Rocky Mountain states,” the reports suggested “virus levels are still high and any post-holiday surge will be evident” in those places.

Most states, the reports said, “are at a high plateau for cases and test positivity, and the risk for reigniting local epidemics remains high.”

The reports, which the White House has sent to states each week for the past 28 weeks, offer the administration’s most unvarnished assessment of the state of the pandemic, sometimes at odds with messaging from President Donald Trump.

Some of the reports obtained by CNN provided this stark warning: “No unmasked public gatherings are safe and no indoor private gatherings are safe without all members fully masked, unless all members are actively taking the same precautions and regularly test negative.”

And another state’s report put it in simple terms: “Face masks, and the requirements for them, have been shown to reduce transmission; promote use of face masks as a way to reopen local businesses and reenergize the economy.”

The task force recommended aggressively increasing testing in states like Georgia, where there has been an “unstable plateau in new cases but an increase in test positivity and significantly increasing new hospital admissions.”

With many Americans ignoring public health officials pleas to avoid multi-household gatherings on Christmas, the task force recommended in one state’s report that officials “increase messaging about the importance of testing, especially for those who attended cross-household gatherings.”

Colleges and universities expecting students to return for the winter semester, the task force told multiple states, “should routinely test all students weekly.”

There should be “continued aggressive nursing home testing,” one report said, “along with rapid COVID immunization” of long-term care facility residents.

As states begin to deploy vaccinations, the task force also suggested to one state that it consider prioritizing frontline workers and residents by age “to save the most lives.” Another report stressed the importance of “careful planning, efficient implementation and transparent balanced messaging on the state’s vaccination campaign,” praising states that have launched vaccine-specific online dashboards.

“Given vaccine hesitancy, especially among minority groups, continued active encouragement by the Governor and health officials and potentially, televised immunizations will be useful,” a report said.

As CNN reported last week, the task force informed states that it changed its policy regarding the reports. Rather than being sent along with a batch of data and information on matters such as testing, personal protective equipment, nursing home cases and hospitalizations, states were told via email that “The Governor’s State Weekly Report is available by request from White House Intergovernmental Affairs,” with contact information for an aide in the vice president’s office.

Some states have opted against requesting the reports, CNN has learned, but others are now taking that extra step.

This week, California was the state with the most new cases per 100,000 population, followed by Tennessee, Arizona, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Indiana, West Virginia, Nevada, Delaware and Mississippi in the top 10.

Oklahoma led with the highest test positivity rate, over 20.1%, followed by Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee, Missouri, Virginia, Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska and Utah in the top 10.

Arizona has the most Covid-19 hospital admissions per 100 beds, the reports said, followed by Arkansas, Maryland, Oklahoma, California, Kentucky, Georgia, District of Columbia, Pennsylvania and New Mexico in the top 10.

And South Dakota has the most new deaths per 100,000 population this week, followed by Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Iowa, West Virginia, New Mexico, Arizona, Alabama, Nevada and Indiana in the top 10.

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White House coronavirus task force warns of ‘unstable’ data during the holidays