Across the country, from preschool to higher education, schools are determining the safest — or at least the least dangerous — methods of bringing students back to classrooms in the fall. To help guide them, in April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided recommendations for schools to enforce social distancing, including daily temperature screenings for everyone on campus, cloth masks for staff, and staggered arrival times for students.
But as Trump downplays the risks of millions of children returning to school in the fall — and threatens to withhold funding from school districts if they remain closed — he condemned the CDC’s nine-page checklist as a barrier to reentry:
With top public-health officials sidelined and a sycophantic vice-president heading the White House Coronavirus Task Force, a reversal seemed inevitable. Hours after Trump complained online about the CDC’s recommendations, Vice-President Mike Pence announced on Wednesday that the CDC will soon issue new guidelines that will provide “more clarity” while encouraging local officials to follow a model that is best for them. “We don’t want the guidance from the CDC to be a reason why schools don’t open,” Pence said. “I think that every American — every American knows that we can safely reopen our schools … We want, as the president said this morning, to make sure that what we’re doing doesn’t stand in the way of doing that.”
With new coronavirus cases surging in the south and southwest, a poll from Politico and Morning Consult depicts the hesitancy surrounding a return to the classroom: “Overall, a combined 54 percent of American voters said they are somewhat uncomfortable or very uncomfortable with reopening K–12 schools for the beginning of the coming school year. Fifty-eight percent of voters said they’re uncomfortable with reopening day-care centers, according to the online survey of close to 2,000 registered voters.” On Tuesday, the president painted a different picture: “We want to reopen the schools. Everybody wants it: The moms want it, the dads want it, the kids want it.”
The administration’s decision to potentially put children at risk as part of an apparent effort to allow parents to work is one of a litany of decisions dating back to January in which the White House has ignored expert advice to keep the economy on its legs. Six months later — as the U.S. breaks 60,000 new COVID-19 cases in a single day for the first time — the impulse to overrule public-health officials remains strong.