President Donald Trump’s new push to open schools shows he’s learned nothing from calamities sparked by his demands for premature state openings.
The coronavirus pandemic is again rearing out of control, rising in a majority of states as a new warning comes that more than 200,000 Americans could be dead by Election Day. The United States on Tuesday recorded 60,021 new cases of the virus, a new single day record.
But Trump barreled forward anyway, failing to offer detailed proposals or planning on the imminent question of how schools could open safely as soon as next month even as he admitted he intended to crank up pressure on governors to do what he wants.
“I would say that when we talk about the fall, that seems like a long time. It’s a long time,” Trump said in an interview Tuesday with Nexstar Media Group.
Trump on Wednesday tried to point to some other countries’ ability to open their schools as evidence the US must do the same, but he is neglecting the fact that they all wrangled the pandemic through public health measures he’s not pushing.
“In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS. 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. May cut off funding if not open!” he tweeted.
All those countries have suppressed the virus in one way or the other, whereas the US is rocketing up at record levels – making it harder and less safe to open the schools.
The President then tweeted his disagreement with the US Centers from Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for safely reopening schools, calling their recommendations “very tough” and “expensive.”
His attitude on education mirrors the way that the President disregarded details on another vital issue: the reopening of the economy. From April onwards, Trump pressured states to open up, often when cases were rising in many regions and his own government’s recommendations on how to safely reopen were not being observed.
The President also delivered a fresh rebuke to his government’s top infectious disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who had dismissed the President’s discredited claims that the US has the world’s lowest mortality rate.
And Trump conjured another wishful prediction: that the worsening battle against the virus, which has already killed 130,000 Americans and infected 3 million, would be far less serious within weeks. This all came a few days after another discredited claim, that 99% of cases of the virus are harmless.
“We’ve done a good job. I think we are going to be in two, three, four weeks … I think we’re going to be in very good shape,” Trump told Gray Television’s Greta Van Susteren on Tuesday, referring to raging outbreaks in parts of the country as mere “fires” that would be put out after earlier insisting at the White House that “we are not closing.”
Fresh evidence of Trump’s negligence came on the same day that a new University of Washington model forecast that 208,255 people may die from the virus in the US by November 1. But experts at the university’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation also said that if 95% of the population wore masks in public – a step Trump has often maligned – that number would dip to 162,808.
“It is an inferno in some parts of this country,” Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a renowned cardiologist at George Washington University, said on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront.”
“The President has been trying to make this go away with magical thinking for a long time. He was desperate to open the country in April, and his urgency to open the country is really one of the prime reasons we are where we are now,” he added.
And Fauci warned Tuesday about misleading metrics.
“It’s a false narrative to take comfort in a lower rate of death,” he said during a news conference. “There’s so many other things that are very dangerous and bad about this virus. Don’t get yourself into false complacency.”
Record rates of new infections are occurring as other major industrialized nations – that shut down their economies earlier and stayed locked down for longer – have done far better. The virus is rampant in Southern states such as Florida, Arizona and Texas, and hospital intensive care units are coming under severe pressure, leading some state and local leaders to halt or roll back state reopening plans.
“We did not have to be here right now,” said Dr. Leana Wen, of the John Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“When we look at other countries, they have successfully crushed their curve … and they were able to suppress their level of Covid-19 infections in a way that we just did not do in this country,” Wen told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
Trump blames politics – not the virus
On Tuesday, Trump gave no quarter to the fast-worsening situation with his push to reopen schools.
“We’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools, to get them open,” the President said. “We don’t want people to make political statements or do it for political reasons. They think it’s going to be good for them politically, so they keep the schools closed.”
The thorny task of reopening America’s schools, amid fears of a lost generation of school kids unless lessons resume, is a microcosm of the administration’s slapdash approach. While demanding a return to normal – in business, education, leisure and even sports – the White House has rarely provided guidance on how such steps can be taken safely. It has left it to states, cities and individuals to fend their own battles in adopting a hard-core definition of federalism that rejects any traditional notion of presidential duty.
Trump’s self-serving implication that his opponents want to keep schools closed to hurt him politically ignores the complicated concerns that administrators, teachers and parents harbor over the prospect of schools staying closed – and the dangers that are inherent in getting classes up and running again.
And his failure to offer any specifics, beyond vague demands for opening with a new school year due to begin next month in many states, added to the impression that he was making a purely political move.
Asked by Nexstar whether there would be a national testing strategy and recommendations for school officials, the President waffled. “It may be. We’re going to see. Well, we have a long time to think about the school stuff. … But we want to have the schools open,” Trump said.
Apart from growing educational damage, the mental and emotional impact on children kept out of class since March is considerable. Online classes hurriedly pulled together when the pandemic struck are nowhere near as good as real lessons. Closed schools also impose a significant burden on families struggling to figure out how to balance work and child care. Less well-off kids, meanwhile, often get their only nutritious meals of the day at school.
The President’s push to reopen schools come what may also ignores the deep concerns about a return to class next month that are shared by parents, children and college students. There is anxiety about sending kids into environments that are germ-laden at the best of times with the virus still running rampant. While Trump says most children don’t get seriously sick with the virus, he’s offered no answers to teachers, who are at far higher risk of serious complications.
The White House promised new guidelines on Tuesday to ensure that schools can reopen safely. But such material is unlikely to ease many concerns. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention drew up similar best practices for states to open up their economies, but Trump goaded sympathetic governors into ignoring them with his incessant demands for a return to normal life – which were based on a desire to reopen and the populace’s waning patience with shutdowns, rather than on any scientific evidence that it was safe to do soon.
The pandemic toll grows
The lessons of foreign nations and states that have prevailed, at least for now, over the virus is that social distancing, the wearing of masks, aggressive testing and contract tracing, and staying shut down until infections are suppressed is the way to get it under control.
This involves damaging economic consequences. The US economy is now threatened by a second slump if the virus gets so bad that states and cities are forced back into lockdown. Trump’s administration falls short on all those key strategies and even now is ignoring best practices and the evidence of what worked elsewhere in a bid to crank up the economy, deemed vital to the President’s reelection hopes.
The result is that the nation appears doomed to a long fight against the disease that will continue to exert a heavy human toll and frustrate efforts to resume a semblance of normal life until there is a change of tack by the government and a serious effort to take steps that are proven to work in slowing the pandemic.
The price of ignoring the science is becoming clear. Day after day, the US is piling up record new infection counts, around 50,000 a day.
Ohio GOP Gov. Mike DeWine, who has been lauded for his handling of the pandemic, warned of a “huge, imminent crisis” in seven “red hot” counties and issued an order requiring people in the affected areas to wear masks.
Florida piled up more than 7,000 new cases of the disease on Tuesday as its positive rate in testing topped 16% for the first time, a figure that suggests the virus is far more prevalent in the community than is being revealed by current testing.
Texas said its daily new coronavirus infection rates surged by a record 10,000 cases.
“I do think Texas reopened too fast,” Mark McClellan, a former US Food and Drug Administration commissioner, told CNN on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Fauci, who is on the outs with the President because of his unvarnished statements about the virus, is warning that the US is still “knee-deep” in the crisis.
Trump didn’t take kindly to the new dose of truth, in a remark that encapsulated his staggering state of denial.
“Well, I think we are in a good place. I disagree with him,” the President told Van Susteren.
This story has been updated to include additional comments by Trump.
CNN’s Daniel Dale contributed to this report.