McEnany likens schools to ‘essential places of business’ in push for reopening

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The White House would support sending children back to school even if future studies showed kids transmit COVID-19 at a higher rate than currently known, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Friday, arguing schools are “essential places of business.”

McEnany fielded multiple questions from reporters about President Trump’s push for a return to in-person learning this fall even as he cancels some events for the Republican National Convention due to concerns about holding a mass gathering during the pandemic. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, also said Friday it’s “an open question” how rapidly children under the age of 10 spread the virus.

In her briefing Friday, McEnany pointed to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance that shows young children are less likely to experience serious symptoms; that student-to-teacher transmission of the virus is low if proper distancing protocols are implemented; and that data indicates children are infrequently the source of infections within families. 

“But that being said, even if there is transmission and later studies come out, let’s say, we believe that students should be going back to school because the effect on a child, we know scientifically, they are not affected in the same way as an adult,” McEnany said.

Pressed on Birx’s comments, McEnany said “it is our firm belief that our schools are essential places of business, if you will, that our teachers are essential personnel.”

The White House has taken a hard-line position in urging students to return to in-person learning even as several major districts are opting to start the new school year remotely as the pandemic rages in many parts of the country.

Trump has threatened to cut federal funding for schools that do not reopen in time for the fall, saying this week he would have no problem with his kids or grandchildren going back to school.

Experts view the resumption of in-person learning as a key to jump-starting the economy, as it will allow parents to return to work without juggling homeschooling.

The CDC released updated guidelines on Thursday after Trump criticized their original recommendations. The new outline advises that unless there is substantial, uncontrolled community transmission in an area, schools should reopen to some extent with a certain level of social distancing in place.

White House aides have also noted that many children rely on schools for daily lunches and argued that in some cases teachers who see children in person will notice and report cases of child abuse from outside school.

Republicans are eyeing more than $70 billion in help for schools as part of the next coronavirus aid package currently being negotiated.

But the push to reopen schools contradicts the other guidance administration officials have offered in recent days. Trump this week acknowledged the pandemic will “get worse before it gets better,” and he announced Thursday that he was scrapping plans for large in-person events in Florida for the GOP convention.

Asked why it was safe to hold in-person learning if Trump himself said it was unsafe to have the convention, McEnany cited the lower risk of serious illness among children. 

“It’s a different scenario when you have packed adults in the room versus these students that we can make precautions and take measures to protect,” she said.

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Kayleigh McEnany schools
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