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White House Adviser Supports Bar Closings as US COVID Cases Surge

People gather at the North Shore Tavern in Pittsburgh, June 28, 2020. In response to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, health officials are ordering all bars and restaurants in Allegheny County to stop the sale of alcohol for on-site consumption.

A top White House adviser voiced support Wednesday for closing bars as the U.S. faces a new surge in coronavirus cases partly fueled by younger people socializing shoulder to shoulder at drinking establishments.

At least 19 of the 50 U.S. states have paused reopening their economies as more than 40,000 new COVID-19 cases have been reported in each of several recent days. In 37 states, the number of confirmed cases is increasing, not falling as had mostly been the case.

A sign outside the West Alabama Icehouse shows the bar is closed, in Houston, June 29, 2020.
A sign outside the West Alabama Icehouse shows the bar is closed, in Houston, June 29, 2020.

Governors in at least six states have ordered bars closed after weeks ago saying they could reopen. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that indoor dining in New York City "will be postponed until the facts change and it is safe and prudent."

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, in an interview on Fox News's "Fox & Friends" show, cast decisions facing states as something of a choice between closing bars now and being able to reopen schools in August and September.

"I have something to say: We need to have priorities in our states and in this nation," she said. "Do you want to open the bars now, or do you want to open the schools and the day-care centers in a few short weeks?"

She concluded, "I vote for the latter, and not just because I have four school-aged children but because we know that opening our schools and getting our children back to their normal routines and their structural support is really the key.

"I think it's the essential nervous system to this nation, and then people will be able to go back to work," she said.

Concern from Fauci

But the decisions for U.S. school districts and parents of school-age children are often not easy.

School and university officials throughout the country are grappling with how – and whether – to reopen schools in a few weeks that were abruptly closed in March as the coronavirus pandemic swept the country and mostly forced teachers and professors to fitfully conduct their classes online. Such decisions for the upcoming school term, many still in the making, vary widely throughout the country.

Outside Washington, in one suburban school district, parents were given a choice for the fall term: have their children taught full-time online or have them go back to school two days a week and watch classes at home on three days. Then the teachers balked at the plan for even limited in-school instruction.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease specialist, told lawmakers on Tuesday that he is "quite concerned" about surges of coronavirus cases in the country.

"We are now having 40,000 new cases a day," Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a Senate health committee. "I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around. And so, I am very concerned."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Dr. Anthony Fauci on US COVID Surge
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Optimism from Pence

Nonetheless, Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the White House Coronavirus Task Force, emphasized the positives in the current state of the outbreak ahead of his trip Wednesday to Arizona, one of the areas with the biggest spike in infections.

"Fatalities are at the lowest level since March," Pence told reporters Tuesday during a visit to U.S. Public Health Service headquarters. "We're in a much better place than four months ago, even two months ago."

In addition to Arizona, Pence is also visiting Texas this week, another of the hardest-hit states.

At the Tuesday hearing, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander stressed the importance of reopening schools and called on President Donald Trump and the public to wear masks to help prevent further increases in the spread of COVID-19.

"Unfortunately, this simple lifesaving practice has become part of a political debate that says if you're for Trump, you don't wear a mask. If you're against Trump, you do," Alexander said in opening remarks. "That is why I have suggested the president should occasionally wear a mask, even though there are not many occasions when it is necessary for him to do so."

Alexander added that Trump "has millions of admirers," who "would follow his lead."

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked about that during a Tuesday briefing.

"The president is the most tested man in America" for COVID-19, and thus does not need to wear a mask, she replied.

The U.S., with more than 127,000 coronavirus deaths and more than 2.6 million confirmed cases, has been the hardest-hit country in the world.