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White House warns Omaha is among 9 cities nationally with concerning coronavirus numbers
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White House warns Omaha is among 9 cities nationally with concerning coronavirus numbers

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This article about the latest White House Coronavirus Task Force call was originally published by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit newsroom based in Washington, D.C.

The White House Coronavirus Task Force sees troubling coronavirus numbers in 10 local areas across the country, including Omaha, even as its data shows improvement in Sunbelt states, according to a private call between task force leader Dr. Deborah Birx and state and local officials Wednesday.

“We are seeing encouraging signs across the South,” Birx said on a recording of the call obtained by the Center for Public Integrity. “We are concerned that both Baltimore and Atlanta remain at a very high level — [also] Kansas City, Portland, Omaha [and] of course what we talked about in the Central Valley [of California].”

A Public Integrity analysis of publicly available data shows that 23 states would now be in the red zone for cases per population, based on the White House Coronavirus Task Force criteria.

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On Wednesday’s call, Birx also said residents in “red” or “yellow” counties  should stop family gatherings.

“If you’re in a red or yellow county, bringing together family members will create, potentially, particularly if indoors, super-spreader events,” she said. “We’re finding that across the South and moving up into the Midwest.”

The White House report detailing which counties are “red” or “yellow” has not been made public, though it is distributed to governors. Public Integrity first revealed the report dated July 14, and the New York Times obtained the July 23 report.

Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia are also “concerning,” Birx said. She continued to emphasize that the current outbreaks differed from those in the spring because they’ve penetrated more rural areas. She said similar things over the weekend, telling CNN that the pandemic had entered a “new phase.” President Donald Trump later criticized her on Twitter, calling her “pathetic.”

Birx did not comment on schools, which the president has insisted must reopen.

In a similar briefing two weeks ago, Birx warned 11 cities that they should take “aggressive” action to combat rising coronavirus cases.

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Thousands of state and local officials are invited to attend the calls, which are hosted by the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, according to White House official William Crozer, who introduced Birx on the call Wednesday. But it’s not clear which local leaders are hearing Birx’s warnings.

Leaders in several cities were not on the call two weeks ago when Birx pinpointed them, or did not know about it.

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A staff member in Gov. Pete Ricketts' office said they do not have any information about a visit by Birx.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

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