The CDC Says This State Just Moved Into the Coronavirus "Red Zone"

"I would look at this data and I would say, 'We need help,'" CDC Director Robert Redfield, MD, warned.

The beginning of August brought the first signs of good news for the Sun Belt states in the fight against coronavirus. It seems new cases are finally showing a slight decline in many states in that hard-hit region, but now, there is a new crop of states to worry about. The country's top medical experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and on the White House Coronavirus Task Force are warning that some Midwestern states are seeing a shift in numbers that could be a sign of troubling days ahead. In fact, as a result of its recent COVID surge, Nebraska has moved into the "red zone," according to CDC Director Robert Redfield, MD.

"Nebraska's a state right now that we consider a 'red zone' state," he said in an interview with local Omaha ABC affiliate KETV 7 on August 6. "I would look at this data and I would say, 'We need help.'"

Over the last week, Nebraska has averaged 15.2 new confirmed daily COVID cases for every 100,000 residents, according to Covid Act Now. That puts Nebraska "at risk of an outbreak" on the site's map.

nebraska shown as coronavirus hotspot on u.s. map

The White House's threshold for "red zone" states is 100 new weekly cases per 100,000 residents and/or a positive test rate above 10 percent. CNN reports that in a call with state and local officials on August 5, Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Deborah Birx, MD, said that Nebraska's rise to the danger zone came as recent figures show its positive test rate spiking above that 10 percent mark.

In the Task Force's previously leaked report from July 26, they cited that Nebraska was in the "yellow zone" for both new cases and positive test rate, but it was just shy of "red zone" status. At the time, Nebraska was seeing 93 new cases per week per 100,000 residents and its positive test rate was at 9.1 percent.

But now, Birx and Redfield seem to say the Midwestern state has crossed over the "red zone" line. However, as of August 7, data from Covid Act Now shows the state's positive test rate at 8.9 percent.

Nebraska's biggest city, Omaha, was also specifically name-checked by Birx in the Wednesday call as a major metro area currently seeing an uptick in positive test results. Fellow Task Force member Anthony Fauci, MD, has said that the infection rate is a "pretty good predictor" for measuring when and where hotspots will emerge. "We've seen that in the Southern states as predictors," Fauci told CNN. "This is a predictor of trouble ahead."

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Meanwhile, Birx and Redfield also called out California's positive test rate. While the state had been in the coronavirus "red zone" for new cases, last week California was in the "yellow zone" for positive test rate. Now, the officials say, it's crossed that threshold, too. Birx said that while the hotspot of Los Angeles County has seen some success in stopping the spread, she specifically cited the Central Valley as a major problem area.

But much like Nebraska, according to Covid Act Now, California's positive test rate appears to be well below that 10 percent benchmark at 5.1 percent. Recently, however, California has been making headlines for underreporting cases due to a glitch in its database, so it's possible that number is off.

"It's not entirely clear which states the Task Force has designated as 'red,' 'yellow,' or 'green,' how often that label may change, or what the criteria may be for the designation because the panel hasn't released the information on the classification system," CNN notes. For the past two weeks, the White House Coronavirus Task Force's report labeling states has leaked to the public via the Center for Public Integrity and The New York Times. But this week's data, at the time this article was published, was not yet leaked to the public.

As for what Nebraska in particular can do to get out of the "red zone," Redfield advised a mask mandate. "We've seen remarkable changes in Arizona, Texas, and Florida really by taking it seriously and getting the public to embrace masks," he told KETV. And for more on states in trouble, check out These Two States Are Becoming the Worst COVID Hotspots in the U.S.

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Zachary Mack
Zachary covers beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He's the owner of Alphabet City Beer Co. in New York City and is a Certified Cicerone. Read more
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