The transition from the Trump to the Biden administration has brought significant changes to the US Covid-19 strategy, and with it, a new level of transparency.
In addition to thrice-weekly virtual press briefings on the pandemic, the Biden administration is making another key change in its outreach to states. The White House will now be publicly releasing its weekly state-specific Covid-19 reports, which began during the Trump administration in June.
“In our effort to increase transparency, we’re releasing public weekly COVID-19 reports with local pandemic data previously only available to states. Take a look at what’s happening in your state here,” the Biden White House Covid-19 Response Team said in a tweet Friday, linking to HealthData.gov, which provides downloadable reports for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
A White House official told CNN the administration is “committed to being a partner to states for resources and clear guidance” and will “be transparent even when it is not easy or when the truth is difficult.”
Part of that effort includes the sharing of data.
“We’ll enhance areas as needed, like the data presentation of the CDC’s ‘COVID-19 Tracker’ webpage in our ongoing commitment to transparency and information-sharing to our governors and the public,” the official said.
The Trump White House sent these reports, which included state-specific and national data as well as tailored recommendations, to state officials each week, but refused to provide them to reporters or publish them publicly. In December, the task force removed another layer of transparency, requiring states to reach out to the White House directly to request the reports each week, rather than proactively provide them.
CNN was able to independently obtain dozens of state reports each week, and the findings showed a more unvarnished, urgent assessment on the state of the pandemic than the Trump White House would reveal publicly. For instance, while the White House was hosting a bevy of holiday parties where many guests were unmasked, the reports from that time told state officials to “begin warning about any gathering during December holidays.”
The language in the weekly assessments, which began in June, became more and more dire each week. In November, the reports warned of “aggressive, unrelenting, expanding broad community spread … without evidence of improvement, but rather, further deterioration,” adding that current mitigation efforts were “inadequate.” In an early December report, the task force urged public health officials to take matters into their own hands, saying, “If state and local policies do not reflect the seriousness of the current situation, all public health officials must alert the state population directly.”
Trump’s Covid task force coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, was directly involved with the report each week, and in her final set of reports released last week, included a personal note.
“I personally am grateful, along with (aide Irum) Zaidi, to the Governors, Mayors, State Legislators, County Commissioners, Tribal Leaders, state and local health leadership, and hospital and community leaders from the 44 states that met with us during our travels. These direct on-the-ground learnings from you changed policy and programs,” Birx wrote in the January 17 reports obtained by CNN.
She continued, “You showed us the barriers that needed to be addressed, and many of you provided us with solutions that we could feature in the weekly Governor’s call from the White House.”
Birx has indicated that she felt censored by the Trump White House, which played into her decision to convey urgency at the state level.
“I was so frustrated that I realized that the only way, if I could not get a voice internally, that I could get a voice out at the state level because I could see the governors on the governor’s call weekly and I could see how deeply they were concerned about every one of their citizens,” she said during an interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes” that aired last Sunday.
The first set of Biden-era task force reports, dated January 24, did not include any specific recommendations, noting, “The weekly State Profile Reports are currently under review. The format and content may change in coming reports.”
It did, however, continue to provide the charts of county, state and national data.
Arizona is the state with the most new cases per 100,000 population this week, followed by South Carolina, California, Rhode Island, New York, Georgia, Texas, Delaware, Virginia, and Oklahoma in the top ten.
Oklahoma has the highest test positivity rate, at 18.8%, this week, followed by Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Texas, Kentucky, Georgia, Nebraska, Alabama, and South Carolina in the top ten.
Arizona also leads for the most hospital admissions per 100 beds, followed by Maryland, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, New Mexico, the District of Columbia, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and California.
And Arizona is also ranked at the top for most new deaths per 100,000 population, followed by Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, California, Georgia, Louisiana, and Wyoming.