- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 8, 2020

President Trump on Wednesday rejected guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to safely reopen schools — guidelines that are now being revised — as he finds himself increasingly at odds with his own administration over how to confront a surge in coronavirus cases.

Mr. Trump’s demands that schools and colleges reopen in the coming weeks came as the U.S. surpassed 3 million positive coronavirus cases in a pandemic that has left more than 132,000 Americans dead.

“We want the schools to be open and going in the fall,” the president said at a Rose Garden event. “Most of them, I think, are looking at it that way.”

As he pledged to keep up the pressure on governors to reopen, Mr. Trump said he disagreed with the CDC on its “very tough & expensive guidelines” on reopening.

“While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!” the president wrote on Twitter.

Public health experts said it’s vital for schools to reopen but rushing into it without a plan is a recipe for disaster.

“To open schools, the president must take public health seriously,” said Lawrence Gostin, a health law professor at Georgetown Law School. “He has not. Full Stop.”

Mr. Trump also threatened to withhold federal funding from schools that don’t reopen quickly enough.

The CDC is planning to issue revised guidance next week, though Director Robert Redfield said school districts shouldn’t use the guidelines as justification for keeping their doors closed to in-person classes.

“Our recommendations are not requirements, and they’re not meant to be prescriptive,” he said.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany denied that the White House pressured the CDC to change the guidelines.

“The CDC is very much on the same page as the president,” she told reporters.

As one example of an impractical guideline, Ms. McEnany cited a CDC recommendation that students bring their own lunches if possible, saying millions of children rely on schools for some of their meals.

Existing CDC guidance for reopening K-12 schools also says schools can consider teaching proper hygiene and handwashing, encourages the use of cloth face coverings, and mentions cleaning and disinfecting “frequently touched surfaces” such as door handles.

At a White House event on Tuesday, Dr. Redfield also listed several basic safety recommendations for schools to safely reopen. They include reconfiguring classrooms to keep students at least six feet apart, upgrading ventilation systems and closing common areas.

Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday said the president’s criticism of the CDC guidelines reflected Mr. Trump’s intense desire to get schools reopened.

“If there are aspects of the CDC’s recommendations that are prescriptive or serve as a barrier to kids getting back to school, we want governors and local officials and education leaders to know that we are here to work with them,” Mr. Pence said.

On the defunding threat, Ms. McEnany said Mr. Trump wants to increase education funding in the next round of federal coronavirus aid, which lawmakers hope to complete before departing for their summer vacation in August.

But she said the president wants the money “tied to the student” and not to school districts.

Mr. Pence said that despite the soaring case numbers, there are reasons for optimism in the broader battle against the coronavirus, citing relatively low death rates and a flattening in the number of positive tests in newer hot spots such as Texas, Arizona and Florida.

“We flattened the curve before,” the vice president said. “We slowed the spread and we can do it again, but we’ve got to all do our part.”

Democrats accused the president of misleading the country with his rosy framing of the virus and called the 3 million milestone a product of Mr. Trump’s failed leadership.

“The American people have sacrificed far too much in this fight for Donald Trump to just admit defeat. They’ve done their job, and it’s long overdue for their courageous efforts to be matched with real action and leadership from the White House,” said likely Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the U.S. coronavirus response coordinator, said it’s vital for residents in hard-hit areas to take precautions such as wearing face coverings and avoiding bars and indoor dining.

Dr. Birx also said people shouldn’t be gathering inside homes, either, and advocated for “decreasing those gatherings back down to our baseline recommendation which was 10 [people] or less.”

Mr. Pence, Dr. Birx and Dr. Redfield addressed reporters at the Department of Education after a White House coronavirus task force meeting.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who warned this week that the U.S. is still “knee-deep in the first wave” of coronavirus infections, did not attend the briefing.

Mr. Trump said he did not agree with the comparatively dire assessment of Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and arguably the most prominent public face of the administration’s COVID-19 response.

“I think we are in a good place,” the president told Gray TV’s Greta Van Susteren. “I disagree with him.”

“I think we are going to be in two, three, four weeks, by the time we next speak, I think we are going to be in very good shape,” the president said.

Ms. McEnany did not answer directly when asked Wednesday if Mr. Trump still has confidence in Dr. Fauci.

“The president has confidence in the conclusions of our experts, but it’s up to him to determine what to do with that information and to take what we hear from Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx and others … and come to the ultimate consensus that’s best for this country,” she said.

Shen Wu Tan and Gabriella Muñoz contributed to this report.

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