Reports show White House coronavirus task force has been stepping up mask recommendations all summer, only to be ignored by some states
Posted September 3, 2020 12:41 p.m. EDT
CNN — The White House coronavirus task force gave increasingly urgent recommendations to states about masks over the summer, only to have them mostly ignored by six states, their weekly reports show.
The task force has declined to make the reports public, but the House Select Subcommittee on Coronavirus published each report, from June 23 up to August 9, earlier this week.
The reports show that the task force made tailored recommendations to each state -- including recommendations about mask use.
The Trump administration's mask messaging -- particularly from the President himself -- has been inconsistent and confusing as the pandemic has progressed with no uniform national strategy in place as the pandemic has spread rapidly through the country, infecting more than 6 million and killing more than 185,000. But the reports show that the task force tried to encourage states to mandate mask use, even as some states essentially ignored those recommendations.
The language in the reports intensifies in recommendations for states such as Georgia, Iowa and Oklahoma as outbreaks occurred over the summer months in those states.
In the June 29 recommendations for Georgia, for instance, the report advises that officials "ensure public use of masks in all current and evolving hot spots." The July 14 report recommends that Georgia "mandate statewide wearing of cloth face coverings outside the home."
On July 26: "Mandate use of masks in all current and evolving hot spots -- optimally a statewide mandate."
And by August 9: "Current mitigation efforts are not having a sufficient impact and would strongly recommend a statewide mask mandate."
There is still not a statewide mask mandate in the state of Georgia.
Many of the recommendations from the task force reports suggest more targeted mask wearing in "red zone" and "yellow zone" counties or "evolving hotspots." But some states -- Oklahoma, Nebraska, Iowa, Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina -- were advised to enact mask mandates statewide in the most recent August 9 report. They have all failed to do so more than three weeks later.
All of the states that do not have some form of statewide mask mandates are led by Republican governors. They include Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming.
The White House lambasted the House committee's publication of the reports.
"In the midst of an ongoing pandemic, some members of Congress have chosen to irresponsibly issue a partisan report completely for the purpose of falsely distorting the President's record to protect the health and safety of the American people and save millions of lives," White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said in a statement.
CNN has also obtained this week's task force recommendations for Iowa and Missouri.
Iowa, the August 30 task force report said, had the highest case rate in the country this week, up 77.4% from the previous week. The nine-page report warned of dire new case increases across rural and urban areas and called for a mask mandate, the closure of bars and a plan from universities as the pandemic intensifies in the Midwest.
The task force pointed to universities as a major factor contributing to the virus' spread.
"University towns need a comprehensive plan that scales immediately for testing all returning students with routine surveillance testing to immediately identify new cases and outbreaks and isolate and quarantine," the report says.
The Missouri report recommended officials in the state close bars and mandate masks. Missouri currently has the 10th highest case rate in the country.
The August 30 report said community transmission "continues to be high in rural and urban counties," and also noted concerns with "increasing transmission in the major university towns."
"Bars must be closed," the report warned.
And, per the Missouri report, the task force now recommends a statewide mask mandate, saying, "Mask mandates across the state must be in place to decrease transmission." Previous reports recommended masks in hotspot counties.
The Midwest spread comes months after five Republican governors in "heartland" states, including Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, penned a joint Washington Post op-ed touting their states' handling of the pandemic.
"Here in the country's heartland, decisions have been made based on sound medical and social science, positioning our states to thrive individually as our economies reopen," the May 5 op-ed read, adding that Plains states "have managed this emergency exceptionally well by many measures."
"Our states' experiences offer collective proof that a one-size-fits-all approach is not the best way to address unique circumstances. When shaping our state plans, each of us has relied on our own public health teams, informed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other national experts. We knew it was critical, even as the coronavirus has spread, that our state economies keep moving," the governors wrote.