(NBC News)WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump keeps spinning a tale about COVID-19 that is at odds with his own administration’s disease experts and data compiled by his own coronavirus task force, which was obtained exclusively by NBC News.
In Trump’s telling, the deadly pandemic isn’t really a serious threat to the public and rising infection rates are simply due to increased testing. “It’s going away,” he said Tuesday at an event in Phoenix.
But on the same day, the coronavirus task force produced an internal document showing that Phoenix had the highest number of new cases among the 10 metropolitan regions where the week-over-week change in infection rates spiked the most. Arizona’s biggest city had recorded 13,169 new cases over the previous seven days, accounting for a jump of 149.2 percent over the previous week’s infection rate.
The task force records also show that big surges have been recorded in Texas — around San Antonio, Houston, Corpus Christi, Lubbock and College Station — and in other population centers across the U.S., from counties in the Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa regions of Florida to Atlanta’s Fulton County, Joplin, Missouri’s Newton County, and California’s San Joaquin Valley.
Local officials have already made it clear that cases are spiking, and on Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas paused the reopening plansaround the state to deal with what he called an “explosion” of virus infections. But the nonpublic documents show that the White House task force has been tracking the same outbreaks on its own, and they comport with public warnings issued by administration pandemic experts like Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who have been sidelined by the White House.
Together, the data obtained by NBC News provide numerical ballast that support the concerns of Fauci and outside experts who say failure to defend properly against the disease will lead to more infections and a higher death toll. In most cases, the new hot spots are in states and counties where officials, including Abbott, eased back on stay-at-home restrictions as the president pressed them to reopen commerce in recent weeks.
The reopening has coincided with an overall increase in infection rates in the U.S. and a measurable drop in Trump’s political standing. Democratic challenger Joe Biden holds a 10-point lead over Trump in the Real Clear Politics average of national surveys following a spate of reports showing a gap of 8 to 14 percentage points in the last few days. Likewise, state by state polls show Trump trailing in key battlegrounds, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina.