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White House secretly warns 11 cities must take ‘aggressive’ action to stop spread of COVID-19

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A private warning about rising coronavirus cases made to leaders in 11 cities by White House official Dr. Deborah Birx on Wednesday is the latest sign that the Trump administration must end the secrecy surrounding its response to the pandemic, an investigative journalism group said Wednesday.

In an exclusive report about Birx’s Wednesday phone call to city officials, the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) revealed that Baltimore, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Miami, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis have all been identified this week as cities where immediate, “aggressive” action is needed to mitigate their coronavirus outbreaks.

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All the cities are seeing increases in coronavirus test positivity rates. Birx told officials that as soon as even a slight climb in positivity rates is detected, city leaders must begin mitigation efforts such as contact tracing, closing restaurants, and urging residents to wear masks.

“If you wait another three or four or even five days, you’ll start to see a dramatic increase in cases,” Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, said on the call.

According to Vanderbilt University researchers, Nashville’s positivity rate has already been going up for several weeks.

Public health experts identified Birx’s private call, which was closed to the press, as the latest evidence that the White House is keeping key information about the pandemic from the public—a trend that could continue to weaken the nation’s ability to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

“This is a pandemic. You cannot hide it under the carpet,” Bill Hanage, a Harvard epidemiologist, told CPI. “The best way to deal with a crisis or a natural disaster is to be straight with people, to earn their trust, and to give the information they need to make decisions for themselves and their communities.”

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The call came less than a week after CPI reported on a list of 18 states which the White House had privately identified as being in the pandemic “red zone,” meaning they each had more than 100 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in the last week.

Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, wondered why information about “red zone” states is not being disseminated to the public on a regular basis, allowing people to make choices about the amount of contact they have with others while cases are going up.

“The fact that it’s not public makes no sense to me,” Jha told CPI. “Why are we hiding this information from the American people?”

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Neil Ralston, a journalism professor in St. Louis, also asked on Twitter why the White House would want to keep secret the need for aggressive action in his city.

CPI reported that while hundreds of emergency managers and political leaders from the states and cities in question were on the call, Baltimore’s health department was not informed of the call. In order to get vital public health information promptly to the public, one epidemiologist told CPI, the White House must look beyond communicating with elected officials.

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“It’s not just people who are holding office who need to make decisions,” Caitlin Rivers of Johns Hopkins University said. “The more that we can provide information to people to keep themselves and their families safe, the better off we’ll be.”


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2020 Election

Here’s how Trump intends to create ‘chaos and deadlock’ to steal the election from voters

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The author of a new piece outlining how President Donald Trump could steal the election from voters explained just how that might happen.

The Atlantic's Barton Gellman revealed the Trump campaign is exploring a strategy to pressure Republican-led state legislatures to appoint electors, instead of letting voters choose, and he told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" how that would work in practice.

"The only other time in history we had a debacle like this with possibility of the multiple competing slates of electors where two groups of people said, 'I'm the state elector for the state of Pennsylvania,' for example, it's supposed to go to Congress," Gellman said. "Congress is supposed to decide who are the legitimate electors, if any, from the state, and the problem is the electorate count act is one of the most garbled statutes ever passed by Congress, which is saying a lot."

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Trump apologist thinks president made ‘huge mistake’ by admitting he won’t peacefully give up power

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A conservative who usually defends President Donald Trump admitted to CNN on Thursday that the president made a "huge mistake" when he refused to commit to having a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the 2020 election.

During a panel discussion on the president's latest controversial remarks about the upcoming election, liberal guest Bakari Sellers argued that Americans should be "very terrified" about Trump implicitly encouraging violence in the event that he loses.

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2020 Election

‘Five-alarm fire’: MSNBC’s Morning Joe explains why Trump is rushing to smash democracy

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MSNBC's Joe Scarborough sounded the alarm that President Donald Trump had no intention of giving up the White House.

The president has admitted that he wants to ram through a new Supreme Court justice to help decide the election in his favor, and the "Morning Joe" host was shocked -- yet not surprised -- that Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.

"Some remarkable things that, actually, could be both shocking and not surprising at the same time considering that they come from Donald Trump," Scarborough said.

"For the first time in the history of this republic, you have a president of the United States, who will not commit to a peaceful transfer of power," he added. "At the same time he's asking Republicans to lie to their constituents and go back on what they said four years ago and ram through a Supreme Court justice. Why? Because he needs that Supreme Court justice to vote for him on any election disputes that he stirs up. That is pretty much a five-alarm fire."

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