White House documents show majority of Florida counties in the “red zone”

Published: Dec. 14, 2020 at 9:04 PM EST
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BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) -

New White House Coronavirus Task Force documents have come to light.

Obtained and made public by The Center for Public Integrity, these documents show every single state, except Hawaii, is in the red zone.

This means each state recorded more than 101 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the past week.

Thirty-four states are in the red zone for racking up a testing positivity rate over 10%.

In Florida, nine of the ten counties in our viewing area also fall into the red zone. That relates to the high levels of community transmission.

This specific report, however, dates back to December 6.

These private reports are rarely made public, which is why this is our only copy.

We’re told local elected officials were never aware of it.

“This document has not been provided to us. We don’t have a copy of it, I’ve never read the document,” Bay County Commissioner Robert Carroll said. “So, this is news to us as well, just like everyone else is hearing about it.”

Some Panama City Beach city officials also claim they were unaware of the documents.

In a released statement from the Director of Communications Debbie Ward, she wrote:

“City officials continue to monitor Bay County COVID cases, the positivity rate, hospitalizations, and deaths regularly through the Florida Department of Health Dashboard.

Officials are remaining diligent. We have a mask requirement for all employees and visitors and temperature checks are required for employees and visitors on a daily basis.

We have very few public meetings slated for the next few weeks and those we do have, there will be limited seating and all COVID-19 protocols will be followed.

Our Fire Department continues to disinfect all public buildings on a weekly rotation.

We continue to encourage all staff and the public to remain diligent on hand washing and other safety measures.

Employees who have symptoms or have been exposed to a positive person, are sent for testing and do not return to work until they get a negative result. We do trace the contacts of any employees who test positive.

The Mayor and City Council are very concerned about reducing the spread of this virus. They encourage everyone to limit their contact with others and avoid large gatherings or crowds in public places.

As far as the reports about the state being in the Red Zone, some officials were not aware of this information. I was only made aware of it when you contacted me. I have not spoken with all the Council, however, so I am unsure what news they may have heard over the weekend.”

In the report, White House officials make lengthy a list of recommendations.

One of them asking state and local governments to reimplement their same mitigation policies from the summer.

Noticeably in bold, officials warn Florida to begin warning of gathering during the December holidays.

Several recommendations also call for aggressive testing, but Bay County officials said they already have that covered.

“In our surrounding area we’re actually one of the few counties that still offer testing. I don’t know of any adjacent counties that are doing testing but we still have two sites that are open. We’re testing anywhere between 5(00) and 700 every day,” Carroll said.

Although the numbers are high in Florida, the state ranks 35th when it comes to new COVID-19 deaths and 33rd in testing positivity rate.

The question still looms: why aren’t these reports more readily available and why doesn’t the public see or hear about them more often?

We reached out to Governor DeSantis’ office and asked why these reports were not made public.

We also made a public records request for these weekly reports dating back to November 1, 2020.

Neither request has been fulfilled as of Monday.

The City of Panama City responded to our request for comment in a statement:

“The City of Panama City continues to work closely with the Florida Department of Health in Bay County and Bay County Emergency Services to monitor COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

We encourage our citizens to follow guidance from health officials, including social distancing, wearing a mask in public, washing hands often and staying home when sick or following an exposure to COVID-19. We also encourage our citizens to be mindful of their own health conditions and family members and friends with health conditions.

At the City of Panama City, we continue to perform enhanced cleaning of public facilities and have masks and hand sanitizer readily available for employees and citizens.”

However, officials did not reply to our questions as to whether the Governor’s office or any other state entity made them aware of the reports at any time.

Bay County health officials said they have noted higher local positivity rates since Thanksgiving.

We also asked them whether Governor DeSantis has been sharing these reports with them, to which they replied, “This report is between the White House and the Governor’s office.”

The Bay County Heath Department’s full statement reads:

“The Florida Department of Health in Bay County closely monitors available data on COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Bay County. Much of this information can be found at FloridaHealthCOVID19.gov and is updated on a daily basis. We have noted an increase in our positivity rates since the Thanksgiving holidays.

Just as we recommended during the Thanksgiving holidays, people should be mindful of their health conditions and those around them when making their plans. If possible, celebrations should be held outside, there should be a limited amount of people, and hygiene and cleaning should be followed. Careful attention should be taken to protect persons over 65 and people with underlying health conditions.

DOH-Bay continues to recommend that persons follow guidance to protect themselves and those that interact with from COVID-19. This includes social distancing, wearing mask in public, washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, staying home when you are sick and getting tested for COVID-19 if you have any symptoms or are a close contact to someone who is confirmed to have COVID-19. Close contacts are those who are in less than 6 feet for at least 15 minutes cumulatively over a 24-hour period.

We also recommend that persons who are positive for the virus follow isolation guidance. They should stay separate from persons in their home and stay home for at least 10 days from symptom onset and be fever free and have improvement in symptoms for at least 24 hours before resuming regular activities.

People who are exposed should follow quarantine guidelines. The gold standard remains 14 days. There are options for a 10-day quarantine without testing and a 7-day quarantine with a negative PCR test. To reduce quarantine, you must be able to social distance, wear a mask and avoid crowds. You should also not have any symptoms of COVID-19. During quarantine, you should stay home and away from others within your home. Quarantine is used to reduce the spread of the virus as you may become infected 2-14 days following exposure.

DOH-Bay offers COVID-19 testing for persons who have symptoms or are close contacts to COVID-19 cases. We also share information on other testing options that are available in Bay County to increase access to testing for those who need it.

DOH-Bay continues to work closely with long-term care facilities to reduce cases among those vulnerable populations.

DOH-Bay also continues to work with our government, education, health care and non-profit partners on communication and mitigation strategies for reducing the spread of COVID-19.”

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