Savannah Behrmann, USA TODAY
Published 6:19 p.m. ET July 16, 2020 | Updated 8:41 p.m. ET July 16, 2020
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany again pushed the Trump administration position that all schools should reopen in the fall, despite a surge in coronavirus cases nationwide, insisting “science should not stand in the way of this.” (July 16)
WASHINGTON – White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday emphasized that schools reopening this fall shouldn’t be contingent on science surrounding coronavirus, but then claimed the “science is on our side here” as the pandemic continues unabated.
In response to a question about what President Donald Trump would say to parents who have kids in school districts that may be online-only, McEnany said: “The president has said unmistakably that he wants schools to open. And when he says open, he means open in full, kids been able to attend each and every day at their school.
“The science should not stand in the way of this,” she added, saying it is “perfectly safe” to fully reopen all classrooms.
McEnany then claimed “science is on our side,” citing one study that said the risk of critical illness is less than the seasonal flu in children. She also quoted former Stanford Neuroradiology Chief Dr. Scott Atlas, who has appeared on Fox News to call the debate around reopening schools “hysteria.”
“We encourage localities and states to just simply follow the science, open our schools,” she continued.
McEnany: “The president has said unmistakably that he wants schools to open…When he says open, he means open and full, kids being able to attend each and every day at their school. The science should not stand in the way of this.” https://t.co/Nj065CIsxppic.twitter.com/sJEAJPg2Jy
— CBS News (@CBSNews) July 16, 2020
The Trump administration has been pushing to reopen schools under the premise that children under the age of 18 “are at very low risk” if they catch the virus.
Some experts have expressed concerns about returning to classrooms because of the risk students could carry the virus home to older relatives. Education professionals have also expressed worry they may be in harms way.
Analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation found one in four teachers are at-risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract COVID-19, and around 3 million people over the age of 65 live in a household with a school-age child.
It is still unclear how frequently children transmit the virus to others. Some data suggests children are less susceptible to contracting the virus and spreading it to adults.
White House health adviser Dr. Deborah Birx said last week the country has not been testing enough children to definitively conclude they won’t drive up transmission of the virus.
“Our data is skewed originally to people with symptoms, and then skewed to adults over 18, so we are looking very closely into that category by using our antibody test,” Birx said.
Some states are showing trends with children and teens contracting the virus in higher percentages in recent weeks. According to a Bloomberg report, California and Mississippi are recording rates nearing 10% of overall cases, while Florida has found nearly a third of children tested as infected.
A growing number of school districts, including ones in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Atlanta and Austin, Texas, plan to start the year with online-only instruction amid a surge in coronavirus cases. In Richmond, Virginia, schools will be online for the first semester.
McEnany also said that doing virtual learning in the fall would make the United states an “outlier” among other Western countries.
However, the U.S. is one of the only Western nations still setting daily records of new COVID-19 cases and deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Total Coronavirus cases in the U.S. passed 3.5 million Thursday.
Whether millions of American school staff, much less children, could faithfully follow protocols such as wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing has yet to be tested.
Israel fully reopened its schools late this spring and then had to shut them down after two weeks after hundreds of students and school employees tested positive for the virus.
McEnany’s comments Thursday came after Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the White House coronavirus task force, said Wednesday, “To be very clear, we don’t want CDC guidance to be a reason why people don’t reopen their schools.”
Contributing: Erin Richards, Brett Murphy, Letitia Stein
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