Local officials perplexed why San Jose was named as city being monitored on federal COVID-19 watch list

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- The head of the White House coronavirus task force raised some eyebrows locally after mentioning the Bay Area's largest city on a federal watch list.

Local officials don't dispute the rise in cases, but wonder why they were singled out in comparison to other California cities that are seeing higher numbers.

As some call for more support and greater transparency from the federal government over the coronavirus crisis, new audio obtained by the Center for Public Integrity offers a small glimpse into what the focus could be moving forward.

In the audio clip, White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx named the city during the call.

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"We have new increases in Miami, New Orleans, Las Vegas, San Jose, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Columbus, and Baltimore. So we're tracking this very closely. We're working with, um, the state officials," Birx said.

That mention of San Jose by the coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force caught local officials by surprise.

Mayor Sam Liccardo said he hasn't heard from the White House.

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"I can't speak to why the White House picked particular cities. It seems the common theme is none of these mayors had communication with the White House. But regardless, our mission remains the same, to reduce our transmission rate," Liccardo said.

He went onto day we need to pull together and not single anyone out.

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"It's not political - I mean fundamentally people are dying as a result of this virus. It would be welcome to have a White House that is a partner in these battles and certainly we would encourage the White House to get engaged with us," Liccardo said.

City and council leaders said they weren't on that private call, nor were they informed of the criteria used to warrant the mention of the Bay Area's largest city.
Santa Clara County executive Dr. Jeff Smith says the county has been working hard to ramp up testing and to encourage social distancing and proper hygiene.

These messaging points, up until recently, weren't a priority at the federal level.

"If you get an inconsistent message pretending that everything's okay, it makes people doubt their local situation, and that's deadly," Smith said.

This comes as more people between the ages of 18 and 34 are being diagnosed with COVID-19 in Santa Clara County.

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Smith feels there should be a nationwide social distancing order in place.

"It's sort of like a forest fire, we're in the middle of a forest fire raging out of control. You're not going to get it under control by focusing on spot treatment," Smith said.
Infectious disease experts say the federal government needs to do a better job of creating uniformity when it comes to best practices.

ABC7 News reached out to the Trump Administration this morning for more information about the watch list but we have not received a response.


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