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GOP governors ignored mask mandate advice from task force

Republicans say the charge is ‘another phony scandal’

People are seen walking on Ocean Drive on July 15, 2020 in Miami Beach, Florida. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis opted not to adopt a mask mandate despite recommendations from the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
People are seen walking on Ocean Drive on July 15, 2020 in Miami Beach, Florida. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis opted not to adopt a mask mandate despite recommendations from the White House Coronavirus Task Force. (Johnny Louis/Getty Images file photo)

The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released eight weekly reports from the White House Coronavirus Task Force this summer that showed concerns about the coronavirus’s spread, the same time period when the administration prematurely declared victory over the pandemic.

The previously undisclosed reports provide state-by-state updates on the number of confirmed cases, diagnostic tests conducted, the test positivity rate and confirmed deaths from COVID-19, as well as policy recommendations.

“The Task Force reports released today show the White House has known since June that coronavirus cases were surging across the country and many states were becoming dangerous ‘red zones’ where the virus was spreading fast,” said Select Committee Chairman James E. Clyburn, D-S.C, in a statement Monday.

“Rather than being straight with the American people and creating a national plan to fix the problem, the President and his enablers kept these alarming reports private while publicly downplaying the threat to millions of Americans. As a result of the President’s failures, more than 58,000 additional Americans have died since the Task Force first started issuing private warnings, and many of the Task Force’s recommendations still have not been implemented,” he said. 

Republicans on the subcommittee accused Democrats of concocting “another phony scandal,” saying that the reports’ data was widely available. But the task force’s recommendations, which at times sharply contradicted public statements from the White House, had not been released until Monday.

The task force reports recommended that some states implement mask mandates to curb the pandemic’s spread, but the Republican governors of those states refused. The task force started urging Florida to “ensure public use of masks in all current and evolving hot spots” on June 29 and repeated that recommendation in subsequent reports, but Gov. Ron DeSantis refused to mandate masks. Throughout July, Florida became one of the worst hot spots in the nation, repeatedly setting grim records for new cases and deaths on its way to becoming the state with the most cases per capita.

The subcommittee report found that 14 states in the red zone for COVID-19 spread disregarded the task force’s mask mandate recommendations, including three states — Iowa, Nebraska and Georgia — that tried to block local mask requirements. Georgia dropped its prohibition on local mask mandates two weeks ago.

The U.S. has reported more coronavirus cases and deaths than any other country, with more than 6 million infections and 183,000 deaths to date. On a per capita basis, it ranks 11th in cases — the worst among the developed world — and 11th overall on deaths per 100,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Despite the statistics, President Donald Trump has continued to boast about his administration’s handling of the pandemic, repeatedly insisting it will soon end.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere issued a statement in response to the committee. 

“In the midst of an ongoing pandemic, some members of Congress have chosen to irresponsibly issue a partisan report completely for the purpose of falsely distorting the President’s record to protect the health and safety of the American people and save millions of lives,” he said. “The Coronavirus Task Force has been providing tailored recommendations to individual states for months encouraging Governors and local health officials to act immediately while at the same time President Trump and the entire administration has reminded Americans to follow CDC recommendations and best practices to slow the spread as we work to reopen.”

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