Report: Indiana isn’t following White House COVID-19 suggestions

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Vice President Mike Pence leads a White House coronavirus disease (COVID-19) task force briefing with Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, at the U.S. Education Department. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

INDIANAPOLIS – An unpublished White House document shows Indiana isn’t following what the nation’s COVID-19 task force is suggesting. It includes a statewide mask mandate.

The report is dated for Tuesday, but it is unclear yet whether Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb has seen the document.

We have access to this report because it was leaked to Washington D.C. reporter Liz Essley Whyte with the Center for Public Integrity.

“It is weird how secretive the government has been lately,” said Essley to our reporter Kayla Sullivan in a virtual interview Friday. “As a reporter in Washington, you really feel that people are scared to talk to you.”

Whyte said her news outlet has been around for decades and is known for getting access to public documents.

“We’re a non-profit newsroom with a long history of fighting for good information,” said Whyte.

It’s not yet known exactly who the White House Coronavirus Task Force shared this document with.

“Based on comments that Dr. [Deborah] Birx made last week, it seems like versions of this report, perhaps each state individually was sent to governors but it definitely wasn’t made public, it wasn’t posted,” explained Whyte.

We’re still waiting to hear back from Governor Holcomb’s office about whether he received it and what he thinks about it.

“If you look on that first page for Indiana, for the recommendations for the whole state, it says that the White House Coronavirus Task Force recommends Indiana implement a statewide mandate for mask usage,” said Whyte.

If you are trying to find Indiana’s section through this link, it starts on page 106.

The report said the majority of Indiana is in the Yellow Zone meaning it has a seven-day average positivity rate between 5-10 percent.

The task force recommends closing bars until that rate is under 3 percent. Decreasing gym capacity to 25 percent and cutting public interactions in half for Yellow Zones.

The report also shows data suggesting mobility in each state.

“People are really out of their houses, they are moving around as much as they were in early March before a lot of the lockdowns happened,” said Whyte. “Things are really back to normal in many states including Indiana.”

The Regenstrief Institute said Indiana’s COVID-19 numbers are increasing. This trending chart shows the uptick in red.

“I would say it is reasonable to conclude that the test positive rate is, in fact, going up and, in fact, we are seeing more cases of coronavirus in Indiana,” said Shaun Grannis, the Vice President of Data and Analytics for the Regenstrief Institute.

The rate is going up especially in Elkhart County – which the report deems as a Red Zone. The task force recommends the closure of gyms, bars and nightclubs, takeout or outdoor dining only and gatherings of 10 people or less in those zones.

“I think the increasing numbers suggest and should reinforce that we need to take all of the precautions possible that we know work,” said Grannis.

Whyte has a document of the task force’s latest suggested precautions but they could change with time.

“Scientists and others have been saying today and yesterday that they would like to see this updated regularly,” said Whyte. “They don’t know why it needs to be hidden from the American people.”

Until then— Whyte said she’ll continue sharing the information she can confirm in the meantime and so will we.

The Indiana State Department of Health didn’t comment specifically on the report as requested.

“Indiana continues to evaluate data daily and work closely with local health departments and other stakeholders to ensure that appropriate measures are taken based on the information at hand,” said Jessica Cobb, the Communications Coordinator for the Indiana State Department of Health. “This is one of many pieces of guidance, studies, data, recommendations and suggestions the state reviews and considers every day as we look at the four guiding principles for safely reopening Indiana.”

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