For almost two months, the White House has been aware of surging cases of Covid-19 across most of the US, but Donald Trump continues to publicly downplay the virus at crowded rallies, newly released documents show.
Six weekly reports from the White House coronavirus task force, which are not disclosed to the public, but are shared with state governments, were obtained by Democratic representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina.
Mr Clyburn, a member of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, released the reports showing that the Trump administration has known since the Labor Day holiday weekend that coronavirus cases are out of control and both mask mandates and increased testing are desperately needed.
The president has repeatedly told his supporters, gathered together with no social distancing at campaign events, with few wearing masks, that the virus affects virtually no one and the country is “rounding the turn” on the pandemic.
In a series of tweets, the official subcommittee account lays out the administration’s public claims and what was said in the corresponding task force report.
Mr Clyburn claims the White House chose to hide these reports as these superspreader events continued and cases began to spike across the Midwest, The Huffington Post reports.
“The White House reports released today show that president Trump’s contempt for science and refusal to lead during this crisis have allowed the coronavirus to surge,” Mr Clyburn said in a statement. “Contrary to his empty claims that the country is ‘rounding the turn,’ more states are now in the ‘red zone’ than ever before. ... It is long past time that the administration implement a national plan to contain this crisis, which is still killing hundreds of Americans each day and could get even worse in the months ahead.”
The reports, published weekly between 16 August and 20 September, underline the disconnect between the task force and the president’s public statements and actions. On 1 October, Trump announced that “the end of the pandemic is in sight” — the next day both he and the first lady tested positive.
The White House was aware of an alarming rise in cases since just after Labor Day, yet downplayed the threat of the virus and held crowded events contributing to the spread—costing lives & livelihoods.
Now, more than HALF of the U.S. is in the “red zone” for new #COVID19 cases. pic.twitter.com/NlnUYQVsog
— Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis (@COVIDOversight) October 21, 2020
By 13 September, the number of states in the “red zone” — new case rates at more than 100 per 100,000 people over the previous week, and positive Covid-19 test results above 10 per cent — had climbed to 18. By 18 October that number had reached 31.
A huge swathe of the Midwest is being especially badly hit, and yet Trump told campaign staffers on 19 October that “people are tired of Covid” and just want to be left alone.
The task force is calling for increased testing nationwide and for states in the “red zone” to institute mask mandates.
Infectious disease export Michael Osterholm said on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday that “the next six to 12 weeks are going to be the darkest of the entire pandemic”.
The White House hit back at Mr Clyburn, accusing him of distorting the administration’s coronavirus response and issuing a partisan statement in the midst of the pandemic.
October 18, 2020 report: pic.twitter.com/7M8Xe1nLNr
— Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis (@COVIDOversight) October 20, 2020
White House spokesperson Judd Deere said in a statement: “The Coronavirus task force has been providing tailored recommendations to individual states for months encouraging Governors and local health officials to act immediately while at the same time President Trump and the entire administration has reminded Americans to follow CDC recommendations and best practices to slow the spread as we work to reopen.”
More than 8.3 million Americans have contracted Covid-19 and over 221,000 have died from the virus.