The White House coronavirus task force issues weekly updates to states. The latest report urges health officials to bypass state leaders if they deem measures being taken by lawmakers aren’t as serious as coronavirus outbreaks warrant.
States are being told to perform “aggressive impact testing” for anyone under 40 years of age to determine who may be affected after the Thanksgiving holiday period. Health officials are concerned about a new wave of cases created by Thanksgiving gatherings. The risk of the coronavirus to Americans is at a “historic high.”
“We are in a very dangerous place due to the current, extremely high COVID baseline and limited hospital capacity,” says the task force’s Nov. 29 report, obtained and published by ABC News. “A further post-Thanksgiving surge will compromise COVID patient care, as well as medical care overall.”
The weekly update is not normally provided to residents of all states, as it is not in Texas. Last week’s report came as Governor Abbott announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sending 1.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Texas. They are expected to arrive in mid-December. The governor promises “swift” distribution of the vaccines. Most people will have to wait months to receive the vaccine so the White House coronavirus task force recommends more stringent measures to be taken for mitigation.
Public health officials believe most people will likely have a long wait for the vaccine, and on Wednesday the head of the CDC issued a bleak forecast about the months ahead, as winter sets in and people weigh whether to travel and gather for the holidays.
“The reality is December and January and February are going to be rough times,” the CDC Director, Dr. Robert Redfield, told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”
He predicted that “before we see February, we could be close to 450,000 Americans [who] have died from this virus.”
The task force recommends anyone under the age of 40 assume they were infected with the coronavirus over the Thanksgiving holiday if they gathered with anyone outside their household. Even those without symptoms are recommended to make this assumption and isolate from anyone at increased risk from the virus and get tested immediately. Older people, those 65 and older, or those with significant health conditions should avoid any indoor spaces where people are not wearing masks. The report states they should have groceries and medicine delivered to them.
As in the previous week’s report, last week the task force recommended that Texas reduce occupancy rates for public and private indoor spaces. Governor Abbott has resisted another statewide lockdown during the recent spikes in cases. Instead, the focus is placed on the hot spot areas. Weekly testing of teachers, college students, county workers, and hospital personnel is recommended. The task force says Texas is in a “full resurgence” of COVID-19 cases and the state’s mitigation efforts “must intensify.”
Governor Abbott assured residents that local officials have the tools necessary to manage the risks of outbreaks.
San Antonio and Bexar County imposed curfews over the Thanksgiving holiday, following El Paso County, which put similar measures in place earlier that month. The curfews so far appear to be one of the few local restrictions that have not drawn legal challenges from the state. Officials in Houston are considering them as well.
“The last resource that we have as local officials, at least within my arsenal, is to impose a curfew to just shut it down at a certain time,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
Abbott last month assured the public that local officials had all the tools they need to slow outbreaks, including a requirement that Texans wear masks indoors in public places and when patronizing businesses.
Abbott has also enacted mandatory occupancy reductions — including closing bars — in regions where COVID-19 patients take up 15 percent or more of hospital capacity for seven straight days.
Sunday on Meet the Press, Dr. Birx delivered sobering observations about the latest outbreaks across the country. She points to lax personal behavior as people experience coronavirus fatigue. A surge is likely coming on top of the cases already being treated.
“Right now, across the Sunbelt, we have governors and mayors who have cases equivalent to what they had in the summertime, yet aren’t putting in the same policies and mitigations that they put in the summer that they know changed the course of this pandemic. This is the worst event that this country will face not just from a public health side, yet we know what behaviors spread the virus and we know how to change those behaviors to stop spreading the virus.”
“Every state across this country needs to increase their mitigation and every state needs to be critically informing their state population that the gatherings we saw on Thanksgiving will lead to a surge — it will happen this week and next week. We cannot go into the holiday season — Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza — with the same kind of attitude that: ‘Those gatherings don’t apply to me.’ They apply to everyone, if you don’t want to lose your grandparents, your aunt.”
In Texas, Governor Abbott says the state is responding “exactly as suggested by the Task Force.” The governor encourages all regions to follow the state’s plan requiring regions with high hospitalization levels to scale back occupancy at restaurants and certain businesses.