While speaking to reporters on Thursday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany insisted that schools should reopen across the country this fall, even as coronavirus rates continue to spike to record highs in several U.S. states.
McEnany’s statements appeared to endorse a return to school for students in spite of what science has to say. But she also contradicted herself in later statements, arguing that science supported the administration’s views.
“The president has said unmistakably that he wants schools to open,” McEnany said. “And when he says open, he means open in full, kids being able to attend each and every day at their school.”
“The science should not stand in the way of this,” she added, suggesting that schools should reopen even if studies demonstrate it’s unsafe to do so.
Later on in the same press briefing, however, McEnany explained that, in her mind, reopening schools was an idea that was backed up by science.
“The science is very clear on this,” McEnany said, citing a study that she claimed showed the “risk of critical illness from COVID is far less for children than that of seasonal flu.”
Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in late June, however, say otherwise, demonstrating that death rates for children from coronavirus were higher than estimates for how many kids died from the flu this year. Indeed, among children 5-17 years old, COVID-19 is around three times more deadlier than the flu, according to the CDC’s figures.
While children do appear to be at a lower risk for contracting COVID-19, it’s not impossible for them to do so, and to possibly suffer other medical ailments (beyond those specifically associated with the disease) as a result.
The CDC itself has a list of recommendations for reopening schools in a safer way, including requiring masks for most students, keeping distance between students in classrooms and in hallways, and transportation suggestions such as having kids occupy every-other seat on a bus.
Those ideas were lambasted, however, by President Donald Trump in a tweet earlier this month. The president described them as too “impractical,” as well as too “tough & expensive” for districts to handle.
According to the CDC website, the recommendations they listed are just that — suggestions for districts to consider. “These considerations are meant to supplement — not replace — any state, local, territorial, or tribal health and safety laws, rules, and regulations with which schools must comply,” the agency wrote on its website, implying that it’s also acceptable for school districts to determine for themselves whether it’s safe or not to reopen.
Polling on the issue of reopening schools finds that a majority of Americans are against doing so. Just 38 percent of respondents in a Politico/Morning Consult poll released this week said they were supportive of kids returning to classrooms in the fall, while 53 percent said they were opposed to the idea.