Last month, Georgia was named in a document prepared for the White House Coronavirus Task Force as a “red zone” state, meaning it is one of 18 states that had more than 100 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people last week and had more than 10% of diagnostic tests coming back as positive.
The report recommends Georgia “mandate statewide wearing of cloth face coverings outside the home.” The document was originally reported by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit newsroom based in Washington, D.C.
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The document, dated July 14, identified the 18 “red zone” states as Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.
The 11 states in the “red zone” for test positivity are Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas and Washington.
The document includes county-level data and reflects the Trump administration’s insistence that states and counties should take the lead in responding to the coronavirus. The document has been shared within the federal government but does not appear to be posted publicly.
“The fact that it’s not public makes no sense to me,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. “Why are we hiding this information from the American people? This should be published and updated every day.”
Dr. Deborah Birx, a leader of the task force, referenced an earlier version of what appears to be the same report — which she said was updated weekly and sent to governors — in a news conference July 8 in which Vice President Mike Pence urged local leaders to open schools in the fall. She said Arizona, California, Florida and Texas were among the states the task force was monitoring carefully and that “a series of other states” were also in the red zone and should consider limiting gatherings.
New coronavirus outbreaks around the world are prompting moves to guard against the pandemic, as the number of confirmed cases globally approaches 19 million.
In May, the World Health Organization recommended that governments make sure test positivity rates were at 5% or lower for 14 days before reopening. A COVID-19 tracker from Johns Hopkins University shows that 33 states were above that recommended positivity as of July 16.
“If the test positivity rate is above 10%, that means we’re not doing a good job mitigating the outbreak,” said Jessica Malaty Rivera, science communication lead at the COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer organization launched by journalists from The Atlantic. “Ideally we want the test positivity rate to be below 3% because that shows that we’re suppressing COVID-19.”
U.S. testing for the coronavirus is dropping even as infections remain high and the death toll rises by more than 1,000 a day, a worrisome trend that officials attribute largely to Americans getting discouraged about having to wait hours to get a test and days or weeks to find out the results.
An Associated Press analysis found that the number of tests per day slid 3.6% during the last two weeks to 750,000, with the count falling in 22 states. That includes places such as Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri and Iowa, where the percentage of positive tests is high and continuing to climb, an indicator that the virus is still spreading uncontrolled.