Wisconsin is listed in the document as the state with the third-highest rate of new cases in the country, with 243 new cases per 100,000 people over the previous week, about 2.6 times greater than the national average. Ahead of Trump’s scheduled rally in Green Bay, the Bellin Health System said Tuesday that its hospital in that city is at 94 percent capacity as covid-19 continues to spike in the community.
“During the intense period of viral surge, large numbers of acutely infected individuals caused exponential growth in infections,” the task force report reads in a section about Wisconsin. “Although young adults are the most affected group currently, spread to other age groups is inevitable.”
The task force report, which is sent to the leaders of all 50 states and D.C., is distributed weekly with specific recommendations for curtailing the spread of the coronavirus, along with progress reports on testing and county-by-county assessments of the prevalence of the virus. The reports are not made public.
Questions about whether Trump should gather large crowds come as the president faced off against his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, for the first presidential debate, offering sharply different opinions on whether public health recommendations against large crowds are justified.
During Tuesday’s debate, Trump defended his events as opportunities for his supporters to gather to hear him and claimed that there has been “no negative effect” from his rallies, even though health officials in Tulsa said a spike in covid-19 cases was “likely” sparked by an indoor Trump gathering in June.
The president also said he was “okay with masks” but falsely claimed that scientists are divided over their value. Health experts have said mask-wearing, hand-washing, social distancing and being careful about crowds currently make up the best defense against the virus.
Biden, by contrast, said Trump has been “totally irresponsible” in the way he has handled social distancing and masks, and in holding large rallies.
“Basically he has been a fool on this,” Biden said of Trump.
“If you could get the crowds, you would have done the same thing,” the president responded. “But you can’t. Nobody can.”
In addition to the White House task force’s guidance, local concern has been growing in Wisconsin about Trump’s planned events, which are scheduled for outdoor airplane hangars without universal mask mandates. Gov. Tony Evers (D) said Tuesday in a news briefing that Trump should either cancel the events or require mask-wearing by everyone who attends.
“This virus is real, and it is devastating our communities, and it will continue to do so until we all get on the same team,” Evers said in a press call about the recent spike in the state’s cases.
He told Wisconsin residents that wearing a mask is not a substitute for social distancing or staying at home, and he asked them to cancel family barbecues, play dates or dinner parties, and make all large gatherings virtual.
Ryan Westergaard, the state’s chief medical officer, said Tuesday that Wisconsin is “in a crisis right now,” given the rate of community spread.
While Biden has made a point of keeping his events small and attendees distant from one another, Trump has largely dismissed the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention against holding mass gatherings during the pandemic.
The president has crisscrossed the country to hold rallies, mostly in outdoor spaces but sometimes indoors, where mask-wearing is optional. At the events, he regularly mocks virus mitigation efforts, like social distancing, as little more than political ploys by Democratic state leaders bent on punishing him.
“We don’t call these ‘rallies’ anymore, because in Dem states like where you have a governor who’s a Democrat, you’re not allowed to go to church and not allowed to go to a restaurant. You’re not allowed to go to your friend’s house. You can’t move from your house unless you’re related to the governor,” he said at a rally in Newport News, Va., on Friday.
“You can’t do anything, unless of course it’s a peaceful protest. Okay?” he continued. “So what we do is we call these peaceful protests, and we’re getting big crowds.”
Courtney Parella, a deputy national press secretary for the Trump campaign, said everyone at Trump’s outdoor events receives a temperature check, is provided a mask they are encouraged to wear and has access to hand sanitizer.
“Americans are enthusiastic for President Trump’s reelection,” Parella said in a statement. “And they want to and have a right to gather under the First Amendment to hear from the President of the United States.”
Biden set off on a tour by train following the Tuesday debate, with whistle-stops Wednesday in Cleveland and Alliance, Ohio, and five cities in Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, Greensburg, New Alexandria, Latrobe and Johnstown.
The Biden campaign said it would test everyone who rides on the train for the coronavirus. The campaign’s policy has been to strictly adhere to all guidelines in states Biden visits, and to avoid gathering crowds of non-invited voters. The candidate’s events are not advertised on his campaign website or Facebook page, as Trump’s are, although Biden gathered mask-wearing crowds of several hundred outdoors at stops in Greensburg and Alliance on Wednesday.
“Joe Biden is setting an example and ensuring that every campaign event keeps people safe through social distancing, masks and following medical experts’ guidance,” Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said. “But Donald Trump is needlessly putting his own supporters and whole communities in danger with potential super-spreader gatherings.”
Trump also planned outdoor airport rallies in Duluth, Minn., on Wednesday, and Sanford, Fla., on Friday. The White House task force report stops short of the “maximal degree possible” warning for social distancing for those states or the states that Biden plans to visit.
Minnesota is ranked as the state with the 20th-highest rate of new cases, with 101 new cases for every 100,000 people, according to the task force report. St. Louis County, where Duluth is located, is considered a “yellow zone area,” the third-highest level of concern. The report notes that both the number of new cases and the test positivity rate have increased in the state over the past week.
Florida is listed as the state with the 26th-highest rate of new cases in the country. Ohio is listed as having the 37th-highest rate of new cases, and Pennsylvania has the 43rd-highest rate.