The White House coronavirus task force expressed concern about virus spread stemming from small household gatherings as coronavirus cases rise across the country and colder months approach. The warnings come as President Donald Trump continues ignoring precautions as he gathers thousands of mostly maskless supporters at rallies across the country in the final sprint before the election.
Mitigation efforts – wearing a mask, social distancing – in retail settings such as stores and restaurants are working, the task force suggested in its weekly report released to states Tuesday. But the same precautions aren’t being taken as smaller groups of friends and family gather in private home settings, which could be cause for alarm ahead of the winter months and the Thanksgiving holiday.
“What we’re seeing as the increasing threat right now is actually acquisition of infection through small household gatherings. And particularly with Thanksgiving coming up, we think it’s really important to stress the vigilance of these continued mitigation steps in the household setting,” US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Robert Redfield told the nation’s governors in a conference call Tuesday, according to audio of the call obtained by CNN.
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That messaging was communicated in reports released from the task force to each state this week. The White House has declined to make the reports public but CNN has obtained reports from several states.
For example, reports for Vermont, Washington and Delaware warned against community transmission “in smaller gatherings of family and friends where masking and social distancing recommendations are not followed,” recommending “increased messaging regarding the need to take these measures, especially given the element of prevention ‘fatigue.’”
The task force warned New Mexico that “people must remember that seemingly uninfected family members and friends may be infected but asymptomatic,” which “can easily lead to spread as people unmask in private gatherings.”
And the task force told Pennsylvania and Utah: “Recent data suggest that smaller, more intimate gatherings of family, friends and neighbors are driving infection, especially as activities move indoors and adherence to face covering and social distancing wanes.”
Based on the reports obtained by CNN, there are at least 26 states in the task force-defined “red zone” for new cases, meaning more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population.
A report for Vermont reflected that no state is currently in the task force-defined “green zone” for cases. With between 10 and 50 new cases per 100,000 population, Vermont, which has the “lowest rate in the country,” now falls into the “yellow zone.”
The task force also sounded the alarms about the possibility of an outbreak in the Northeast region.
Vermont has been “extraordinarily successful,” the task force said, but added there is still cause for concern.
The task force warned Ohio and New Mexico of reemerging spread, telling Ohio it is “showing early signs of reemergence of significant community spread.”
Utah, home to the fifth-highest new case rate in the nation, was warned that the state’s “incidence and test positivity are the highest they have ever been, but restrictions are low to minimal across the state.”
“Clear mitigation policies with effective implementation are critically important, especially in areas with increasing incidence,” the Utah report said.
Idaho, which has the sixth-highest new case rate, was told to have schools take steps to avoid what it described as “Covid-19 stigma.”
They included: “(Addressing) Covid-19 stigma related to responsibility for school closing by emphasizing consequences of Covid-19 (morbidity and mortality), posting hospitalization and mortality data on local and state websites, posting local trends in incidence and test positivity by age group (to show how transmission starts in the young and expands to older populations) and encouraging community cohesion and civic responsibility in local messaging.”
The task force encouraged Idaho school districts to “deploy specific messaging on COVID-19 risks and strategies to avoid infection targeted to older individuals and those at risk for more severe disease.”
And in Missouri, which still does not have a statewide mask mandate in place, the task force said community spread continues, in both rural and urban settings.
“Mitigation efforts should increase to include mask wearing, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and avoiding crowds in public and social gatherings in private to stop the increasing spread among residents of Missouri,” the report said.
The task force also cautioned that there are “severe outbreaks” among nursing home residents and staff in Missouri.