WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he wants to see schools across the United States reopen this fall even as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country topped three million and the death toll climbed to 133,000.
“We want to reopen the schools. Everybody wants it. The moms want it, the dads want it, the kids want it. It’s time to do it,” he said during a White House roundtable on education.
“We’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools,” Trump said at the event, where he was joined by Vice President Mike Pence and several Cabinet secretaries, as well as by first lady Melania Trump.
The president stressed the lower incidence of COVID-19 among children as an indication that it would be safe for students to return to classrooms.
“When children are out of school, they’re missing more than just time in the classroom,” the first lady said. “They’re missing the laughter of their friends, learning from their teachers and the joy of recess and play.”
The secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, said that state and local officials should not use the pandemic guidelines issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a pretext to keep schools closed.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos criticized a Virginia school district or proposing that parents decide whether they prefer their children to spend two days a week in the classroom and the other three learning from home or to receive all of their instruction via distance learning.
“A choice of two days per week in the classroom is not a choice at all,” she said in a conference call with state governors. “Students across the country have already fallen behind. We need to make sure that they catch up.”
While the administration was arguing again for a rapid return to normal, the government’s chief epidemiologist implicitly rebutted comments by Trump pointing to the declining COVID-19 mortality rate in the US.
“It’s a false narrative to take comfort in a lower rate of death,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said during an online press conference with Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat who represents Alabama.
“There’s so many other things that are very dangerous and bad about this virus; don’t get yourself into false complacency,” Fauci said.
Though the death rate has fallen, the US does not, contrary to Trump’s claim on Monday, “have the lowest Fatality (Mortality) Rate in the World.”
Several US states have seen the pace of both new infections and hospitalization soar in the last few weeks.
Most of the 213,794 confirmed cases in Florida have emerged since early May, when the state began to ease restrictions on movement and activity.
Another hard-hit state, Arizona, reported 3,653 new infections and 117 additional fatalities on Tuesday, with 90 percent of hospital ICU beds occupied.
Texas, with 200,557 cases and 2,655 deaths, is also seeing pressure on its health-care system, notably in Houston, the fourth-most-populous city in the US.