Federal health officials will issue new guidelines for reopening U.S. schools after President Donald Trump criticized the current recommendations as tough, expensive and impractical.
The coronavirus pandemic forced nearly all public and private schools in the United States to lock their doors, and Trump is threatening to cut federal funding to schools that stay shut.
“We want to reopen the schools. Everybody wants it. The moms want it, the dads want it, the kids want it. It’s time to do it,” Trump said in a meeting with health and education officials.
Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the White House coronavirus task force, told reporters Wednesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would update its guidelines for safely reopening schools. It plans to announce the new recommendations next week.
“We can’t let our kids fall behind academically,” Pence said. “It’s absolutely essential that we get our kids back into classrooms for in-person learning.”
Children can spread virus
Doctors believe children 12 and younger have a low risk of getting sick from the coronavirus. But youngsters can still spread it to older people, including their parents.
The previous CDC recommendations for schools to avoid spreading COVID-19 include keeping classroom windows open, spacing desks at least 2 meters apart when possible, and keeping cafeterias and playgrounds closed.
Trump tweeted: "I disagree with @CDC.gov on their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools. While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things."
A Trump tweet also indicated he thinks keeping schools shut hurts his chances of winning a second term.
“The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families,” he wrote.
The head of the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union, dared Trump to visit a classroom full of young pupils if health precautions have not been taken.
“I double dog dare Donald Trump to sit in a class of 39 sixth-graders and breathe that air without any preparation for how we’re going to bring our kids back safely,” association President Lily Eskelsen García said on CNN.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said “reopening schools safely may be the single most important thing that we can do to support healthy families during this pandemic.”
“Reopening schools comes with some risk, but there are risks to keeping kids at home, too. At home, kids aren’t benefiting from social stimulation. They may be falling behind in learning. They may be more vulnerable to abuse that goes unreported by the mandatory reporters in our school system. They may not be getting special services.”
New cases in Tulsa
Also Wednesday, the Tulsa, Oklahoma, health director said Trump’s campaign rally there late last month “more than likely contributed” to a surge in new COVID-19 cases in Tulsa County.
"In the past few days, we've seen almost 500 new cases, and we had several large events just over two weeks ago, so I guess we just connect the dots," Dr. Bruce Dart said.
Dart said there were 172 cases the week before the Trump rally.
Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said the campaign went above and beyond to make sure everyone who attended was protected, including temperature checks and hand sanitizers. But reporters said almost no one was wearing the masks that were handed out.
Murtaugh lashed out at the media for blaming Trump supporters for a jump in coronavirus cases, but not the thousands that he said “looted, rioted and protested” during the president's appearance.