White House task force continues to urge mask usage

(CNN) — The White House coronavirus task force continues to issue recommendations to states via weekly reports, this week again strongly recommending mask usage in some states that still do not have statewide mask mandates.

The task force told Georgia that “mitigation efforts must continue including mask wearing,” called on Iowa to “institute mask requirements statewide,” suggested Wyoming require “face coverings in indoor, public, and commercial spaces in all red, orange, and yellow zone counties,” and “strongly recommended… using face coverings” in Utah.

CNN has reached out to all 50 states for a copy of each state’s September 27 report and has received responses from 20 states as of Wednesday afternoon.

College towns in Colorado and Maryland were encouraged to more strictly limit bar and restaurant alcohol sales and indoor dining beyond their states’ respective guidelines. The task force warned that re-opening the University of Wyoming was “ill-advised” amid local outbreaks. Hot spots in Idaho and Utah were encouraged to consider moving to online schooling, despite the administration’s overall push to reopen schools.

And in Wisconsin, where President Donald Trump will rally crowds of supporters in the hot spot metro areas of La Crosse and Green Bay this weekend, the task force warned of “rapid worsening” of cases and recommended increased social distancing “to the maximal degree possible.”

Reports for many states recommended “on-site inspection of infection control practices” in both correctional facilities and nursing homes.

In reports over the last two weeks, the White House has added an “orange zone” to its categories. The red zone for cases indicates more than 101 new cases per 100,000 population, orange zone indicates 51 to 100 new cases per 100,000 population, yellow zone indicates between 10 and 50 new cases per 100,000 population, and green zone indicates less than 10 new cases per 100,000 population. Red zone for test positivity means a rate over 10.1%, orange zone for test positivity means a rate between 8% and 10%, yellow zone for test positivity means a rate between 5.0% and 7.9%, and green zone for test positivity means a rate at or below 4.9%.

Here is a breakdown of the reports by state, in alphabetical order:

Arkansas

Red zone for cases (7th highest)

Yellow zone for test positivity (16th highest)

Cases in Arkansas remain high, but there has been stability over the past week, which the task force applauded, citing the state’s testing targets.

Masks are required statewide in Arkansas, but the task force encouraged the state to “develop age-segmented and geographic relevant messaging to keep Arkansans compliant with mitigation efforts including wearing face masks.”

California

Orange zone for cases (33rd highest)

Green zone for test positivity (37th highest)

The task force praised California for its “gradual improvement” and encouraged the state to continue to monitor for cases or clusters “that may be associated with wildfire-driven congregant sheltering.”

The task force also suggested the state “expand public messaging to younger demographics.”

Colorado

Orange zone for cases (30th highest)

Green zone for test positivity (33rd highest)

The task force expressed concern with increasing cases in Colorado “since early September,” noting that they are “primarily among young adults,” but “the increases are beginning to be seen in other age groups.”

The task force recommended “intensified local measures” in college towns, including encouraging those jurisdictions to “more strictly limit bar and restaurant alcohol sales and indoor dining, even beyond the current Safer at Home level.”

Delaware

Orange zone for cases (29th highest)

Green zone for test positivity (34th highest)

New cases have decreased over the past week in Delaware, but the task force raised concerns that cases “disproportionately affect young adults.”

Home gatherings are also an area of concern: “Recent case investigations in a higher incidence zip code indicated that gatherings in homes were the most significant risk factor.”

Georgia

Orange zone for cases (23rd highest)

Yellow zone for test positivity (22nd highest)

The task force noted that cases and test positivity have decreased over the past week, and there have been “improvements” at university campuses.

Georgia is one of the states with no statewide mask mandate, but the task force recommends, “Mitigation efforts must continue including mask wearing, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and avoiding crowds.”

The task force also warned against large social gatherings in homes: “Ask citizens and students to limit ALL social gatherings to 20 or fewer people. Recreating spreading events through bar-like gatherings in homes will result in continued high cases and those with comorbidities becoming infected.”

Idaho

Red zone for cases (12th highest)

Red zone for test positivity (4th highest)

Cases and test positivity have increased in Idaho, prompting concern from the task force, including a suggestion to consider closing some in-person schools.

“Intensify mitigation efforts where case rates are elevated or increasing and consider urging social distancing, closing of indoor commercial and dining spaces, encouraging use of face masks, and moving to online schooling, especially in areas where hospital capacity is limited or decreasing,” the report recommended.

The report also suggested that Idaho “intensify culturally-specific outreach to Hispanic communities and other at-risk populations.”

Iowa

Red zone for cases (6th highest)

Orange zone for test positivity (10th highest)

Cases have increased in Iowa for weeks, the task force warned.

“Test positivity and case rates have been sustained at the highest levels during the past four weeks, putting Iowa in a vulnerable position going into the fall and winter. Transmission is statewide with new hospital admissions increasing.”

Iowa does not have a statewide mask mandate, and the task force yet again recommended one: “Institute mask requirements statewide with reduced capacity for indoor dining and bars while expanding outdoor dining options.”

The report also encouraged the state to scale up testing: “Target testing in areas with persistent high levels of transmission and rapidly increasing incidence from east to northwestern parts of the state.”

These recommendations come as Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds lowered the requirements for quarantine for those who have come into contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19.

Kansas

Red zone for cases (10th highest)

Orange zone for test positivity (9th highest)

New cases in Kansas have increased over the last week, the task force said, calling on the state to “rapidly scale up testing.”

At one point, the Kansas report referred to Kansans as “Kentuckians”: “Effects of mitigation efforts are fragile. Develop age-segmented and geographic relevant messaging to keep Kentuckians compliant with mitigation efforts, including wearing face masks.”

Kentucky

Red zone for cases (21st highest)

Yellow zone for test positivity (15th highest)

While there has been an increase in Kentucky cases, there has been a decrease in test positivity.

“Effects of mitigation efforts are fragile. Develop age segmented and geographic relevant messaging to keep Kentuckians compliant with mitigation efforts, including wearing face masks,” the report said, recommending the state “rapidly scale up testing.”

Louisiana

Orange zone for cases (28th highest)

Green zone for test positivity (30th highest)

The task force praised “excellent progress” in Louisiana but said the state “needs to increase mitigation efforts in university towns to decrease spread from universities to the local community,” suggesting a limit in hours and occupancy for college town bars and restaurants if cases begin to rise.

The report also praised a wastewater study at Louisiana State University, which task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx touted during a call with governors earlier this week, according to audio of the call obtained by CNN.

Maryland

Orange zone for cases (35th highest)

Green zone for test positivity (38th highest)

Cases and test positivity have decreased in Maryland over the past week.

After the state increased restaurant allowed occupancy to 75%, the task force said, “Jurisdictions must maintain a vigilant posture through continued active testing and case rate monitoring and be prepared to modify practices for increasing disease activity.”

The task force also calls on “intensified local measures” in college towns and called on those areas to “more strictly limit bar and restaurant alcohol sales and indoor dining, beyond the current state level.”

New Mexico

Orange zone for cases (36th highest)

Green zone for test positivity (42nd highest)

Both cases and test positivity have increased in New Mexico over the past week, and the task force starkly warned the state to “Increase testing.”

“New Mexico needs to increase testing and sustain the gains with continued strong mitigation efforts statewide but will need stronger mitigation efforts in university towns to decrease spread from universities to the local community,” the report said.

Masks are mandatory statewide in New Mexico, and the task force recommended that “mitigation efforts must continue including mask wearing, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and avoiding crowds,” which, the report said, should be capped at 10 people.

Ohio

Orange zone for cases (37th highest)

Green zone for test positivity (40th highest)

The task force praised Ohio’s “excellent increase in testing rates” and said cases and test positivity have gone down, particularly citing “downward trajectories in the multiple counties that were in an upward trajectory two weeks ago.”

The report said there are “concerns” with Wood and Greene counties in the greater Toledo and Dayton metro areas.

Though cases are declining at Ohio State University, the task force said it “would increase surveillance testing and consider university-wide antibody testing to define the total number infected to date.”

Pennsylvania

Yellow zone for cases (43rd highest)

Green zone for test positivity (35th highest)

Cases and test positivity are stable in Pennsylvania, but the task force recommends that “As weather cools, intensify public health messaging and monitor and enforce social distancing and use of face coverings.”

The report also recommended Pennsylvania colleges and universities “have conducted a ‘diagnostic sweep,’ testing the majority of students in a short period of time.”

South Carolina

Red zone for cases (14th highest)

Orange zone for test positivity (11th highest)

Though cases remain high in South Carolina, they have been stable over the last week and the task force praised the University of South Carolina and Clemson University as “role models” with their Covid-19 responses.

USC “has one of the best plans” for mitigation, including symptomatic and asymptomatic testing and “strong support for students in quarantine.” Clemson, the report said, “has the best required surveillance testing of students of any of the universities visited” by the task force across the country.

The task force said the federal government is supporting surge testing in the Columbia area “in light of recent testing challenges and the need to prevent spread into the community.”

Utah

Red zone for cases (4th highest)

Red zone for test positivity (highest rate in the country)

Despite increases in cases and test positivity, the report commended “recent gains” in testing as “test volume has expanded.”

The task force called on the state to intensify mitigation efforts statewide or in areas with elevated case rates. There is not a statewide mask mandate, but the report suggested “urging social distancing, closing indoor commercial and dining spaces, using face coverings, and shifting online only schooling, especially in areas where hospital capacity is limited or decreasing.”

Vermont

Green zone for cases (lowest in the country)

Green zone for test positivity (lowest in the country)

The task force didn’t provide much in the way of recommendations for Vermont, saying the state is “very successful in controlling transmission.”

“Vermont has been very successful with limiting transmission due to a well-designed set of gradated mitigation measures and enhanced disease control capacity including expanded testing and contact tracing capacity. No new recommendations this week. Previous recommendations continue,” the report said.

Washington

Yellow zone for cases (45th highest)

Green zone for test positivity (39th highest)

New cases have increased in Washington state, the task force said, calling on the state to expand its testing capacity with an eye to university communities.

The Eastern part of the state is an area of concern, per the report, which called on the state to “closely monitor cases in high incidence counties.”

Wisconsin

Red zone for cases (3rd highest)

Orange zone for test positivity (7th highest)

The task force warned of a “rapid worsening” in the state of Wisconsin, where Trump is heading this weekend for back-to-back campaign rallies in La Crosse and Green Bay, both “red zone” metro areas, per the task force. Trump’s large gatherings come as his own task force warned of an “intense period of viral surge” and called on the state to increase social distancing.

Wisconsin “has continued to see a rapid worsening of the epidemic in the last week,” the report said.

The task force recommended increased social distancing “to the maximal degree possible.”

“During the intense period of viral surge, large numbers of acutely infected individuals caused exponential growth in infections. Although young adults are the most affected group currently, spread to other age groups is inevitable. To the maximal degree possible, increase social distancing mitigation measures until cases decline, including through supporting local authorities to pass and enforce mitigation measures,” the report said.

But the President’s rallies this weekend are expected to flout social distancing. At Tuesday’s presidential debate, Trump defended his packed rallies, saying, “People want to hear what I have to say.”

Wyoming

Red zone for cases (19th highest)

Green zone for test positivity (31st highest)

Cases and test positivity have increased over the last week in Wyoming.

There is not a mask mandate statewide in Wyoming, but the task force recommended “more aggressive community mitigation, including requirements for face coverings in indoor, public, and commercial spaces in all red, orange, and yellow zone counties.”

The task force also issued a strong opinion on reopening the University of Wyoming: “Given large increase in both case rate and test positivity in Laramie, opening University of Wyoming seems ill-advised. Recommend increased capacity to test the majority of returning students, regardless of symptoms, in a limited timeframe and develop sufficient capacity for ongoing broad surveillance.”

The report also suggested the state “work closely with university leadership and student body leaders to establish and broadly communicate expectations and repercussions for non-compliance with social distancing and face masks.”