President Joe Biden wants schools to reopen but believes Congress must make the necessary investments to safely return to in-person learning, his chief of staff Ron Klain said Tuesday, on the heels of several school districts’ last-minute canceled re-openings and a government study indicating teaching kids in person is possible with the right precautions.
“I’ll give you a word: Money,” Klain told CNN’s Erin Burnett when asked why he thought some public schools across the country are still closed in places where private schools are open. “That’s why the President of the United States sent a plan into Congress, even before he took office, to make the investments you need to make the schools safe.”
Klain referenced a study published Tuesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in which researchers looked at data on 17 K-12 schools in rural Wood County, Wisconsin, which conducted in-person learning last fall. They found lower Covid-19 case rates than in the community at large, and few cases of in-school transmission. Cohorts of 11 to 20 students from the same grade level met for classes and lunch indoors, where students were often seated next to the same person.
“Students in very small pods, classes of about 11 or 12, distanced, in a rural area – they can go to school safely, and governors who made those investments,” Klain said, adding that “in other states, we haven’t seen those kinds of investments.”
“President Biden has sent a plan to Congress that will make sure that a majority of our schools can be open within 100 days,” he continued. “We need Congress to pass that plan so we can do the kinds of things you need to do so that the schools can be safe, so the teachers can be safe, so the students can be safe – sadly, it costs money.”
Klain also defended the Biden administration’s ambitious goal to vaccinate 1 million people per day in his first 100 days in office, even after criticism from some observers who say the administration isn’t being ambitious enough.
“We’ve been here seven days, we’ve ramped up capacity higher than it’s ever been. We’re moving into the states faster with more certainty and clarity,” he said. “But there are just some limitations on this process – the President has been very honest, we’re inheriting a system that was built with limited capacity.”
He added, “We are asking the drug makers to dial that up, there’s only so fast they can increase that. So we are ramping this up, as you said, capacity up starting next week and the week after. We hope capacity will go up even more in March.”
When pressed on Biden’s comments Monday that he expects that the US will soon be able to vaccinate 1.5 million people a day – raising the bar by roughly 500,000 more daily vaccinations – and whether daily vaccinations could be increased further, Klain pointed to where vaccine efforts had been previously.
“Our goal is to hit a million, 100 days out of 100 – no country in the history of the world has ever done that, never happened before, so that’s a pretty ambitious goal,” he said. “Obviously the President is pushing us to see if we can do better than that – we hope we can do better than that. But if we hit that 100 million shots in the first 100 days, that will be something that no one has ever done before.”
Klain added, “No one is going to limit shots, we’re going to get as many shots into as many arms as we can. We think 100 million shots in 100 days is an ambitious goal. If we can do better than that, of course we will.”
CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas and Zachary B. Wolf contributed to this report.