Leaked White House docs: Michigan should enforce mask mandate to stop coronavirus spread

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer give an update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

A 359-page document developed for the White House Coronavirus Task Force shows Michigan is at a mid-grade level for new COVID-19 cases in the country and includes a recommendation to enforce Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s recent executive order requiring residents to wear face coverings indoors.

The document, dated Tuesday, shows 18 states are in COVID-19 “red zones,” or areas where coronavirus cases are growing fast enough to necessitate slowing down or halting states’ reopening plans.

Those 18 states reported 100 or more COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people last week. The document — which circulated within the federal government, but wasn’t publicly posted — was first obtained and published by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization.

The document includes recommendations to scale back reopening plans in several states that have seen a surge in cases, including Texas, Florida and Georgia. Notably, those recommendations contradict President Donald Trump’s push for states to reopen. He also is advocating for K-12 schools to resume in-person classes in the fall even as case rates increase again.  

Whitmer reveals why she tightened Michigan’s mask mandate

The task force, for which the document was compiled, includes Vice President Mike Pence, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Deborah Birx and Secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services Alex Azar, among other key officials.

Michigan is designated in the “yellow zone” in terms of cases, per the document. A state is classified as that if it reports between 10 and 100 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in a week. A state moves into the “green zone” if less than 10 cases are reported per 100,000 people.

The state reported 35 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people last week, well below the national average. Michigan is also in the “green zone” for test positivity because it is reporting a positivity rate below 5%. The World Health Organization (WHO) in May recommended states not reopen until positivity rates fell below that percentage.

Public health guidance for Michigan is included in the document. Recommendations include continuing to enforce last week’s order from Whitmer, which requires masks to be worn in all indoor and crowded outdoor public spaces in the state. On Friday, she strengthened the order.

A request for comment from the governor’s office was not returned Friday. Whitmer on Wednesday told the Advance that masks have turned into a political question and a lot of rhetoric comes out of Washington, D.C.

Feds coming to Grand Rapids area to monitor coronavirus, Whitmer says

However, she added she was pleased to see the president wearing a mask when he paid a Saturday visit to Maryland’s Walter Reed National Military Medical Center — the first time he has publicly worn one. 

“Because we got to take the politics out of it, and so long as anyone is driving an agenda based on politics when lives are on the line, it’s dangerous and it’s foolish,” Whitmer told the Advance. “Because the politics are this: We get this right, everyone benefits. And anyone who is fighting against getting this right loses in the worst way [because] people’s lives are on the line.”

The task force document also recommends scaling back the state’s reopening status for operation of bars or restaurants if cases significantly spike or outbreaks are traced back to them. Whitmer on July 1 shut down indoor services at bars in most of lower Michigan after a marked surge in COVID-19 cases, dozens of which were traced back to Harper’s, an East Lansing bar and restaurant.

Recruiting contact tracers, following a mask-wearing campaign and encouraging people to get tested after large social gatherings is also included in the list of recommendations.

Wayne, Kent and Oakland counties reported the highest number of new cases in Michigan. Those three counties account for almost half — 46.7% — of new cases in the state. 

COVID-19 case spike closes indoor bar service in most of Mich.

 

Case spikes in Kent County, which contains the Grand Rapids region, have been significant enough to catch federal officials’ eyes. Whitmer on Tuesday told the Advance that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is sending a COVID-19 Response Assistance Field Team (CRAFT) to the region. Such teams have already been to places where cases are increasing, like Florida, California, Texas and Arizona.  

The document also says states designated as red zones should scale back reopening plans and amp up more public health protection measures, like requiring additional social distancing and enforcing widespread mask-wearing. 

States in the red zone for cases include Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah. 

Only three states — Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont — are in the green zone for cases. The remainder, like Michigan, are in the yellow zone.

C.J. Moore
C.J. Moore covers the environment and the Capitol. She previously worked at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland as a public affairs staff science writer. She also previously covered crop sustainability and coal pollution issues for Great Lakes Echo. In addition, she served as editor in chief at The State News and covered its academics and research beat. She is a journalism graduate student at Michigan State University.