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‘Quite a departure’: Dr. Birx now says some schools shouldn’t open, folks should wear masks ‘in homes’

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Dr. Deborah Birx, a leading member of the White House coronavirus task force, said Sunday that some schools in regions experiencing spikes in positive cases should do distance learning despite a weeks-long push by the Trump administration for schools to reopen.

In an interview with CNN, Birx told anchor Dana Bash that she huddles daily with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield, lead immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci, and others to go over the latest coronavirus data from around the country.

Asked to address Redfield’s recommendation that school districts located in portions of the country where 5 percent or more of the population has tested positive for coronavirus should continue to conduct distance learning, Birx said she concurred.

“I certainly would endorse what Dr. Redfield is saying in the areas where we have this widespread case increases,” Birx said. “We need to stop the cases.”

“So, schools there should stay closed,” Bash interjected.

“I’m gonna do what the CDC guidelines have recommended and certainly the director,” Birx clarified. “If you have high caseload and active community spread, just like we’re asking people not to go to bars, not to have household parties, not to create large spreading events, we’re asking people to distance learn at this moment so we can get this epidemic under control.”

Birx’s comments do not reflect the Trump administration’s previous messaging regarding the safe reopening of schools this fall or the progress made in combatting the virus, including remarks from the president himself.

In the same interview, Birx also claimed, “What we are seeing today is different from March and April,” adding that coronavirus “is extraordinarily widespread,” as quoted by PBS correspondent Judy Woodruff in a tweet.

Woodruff also noted that President Trump said Friday the country would “beat” the virus “soon,” adding: “We want to get our schools open..our businesses open. Much of the country is open..we’re doing really well..”

Meanwhile, the president tweeted Monday morning that cases were up around the country because of increased testing — which he has often said — adding, “Open the schools!”

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1290257055534551043

“This is an incredible departure from what Birx and other task force officials told governors just a few weeks ago,” Daily Beast correspondent Erin Banco wrote on Twitter, in commenting on Birx’s statements.

“On that call, they told governors that there was a way to reopen schools safely. They also said surveillance testing shouldn’t necessarily be required,” she added.

Indeed, Birx’s comments have created confusion and havoc.

Just last week, Redfield noted on Twitter, “Opening schools will be good for the health of our children because so many depend on schools for mental health & nutrition services. The risk to children is far greater by not being in face-to-face education.”

And, as Banco noted, Vice President Mike Pence said on the call with governors, “It is the unanimous recommendation of all of the scientists on the WH coronavirus task force that kids are better off back in school.”

As for the president, he’s been pushing for the reopening of schools since spring, even disagreeing publicly with Fauci.

“We have to get the schools open,” Trump said. “We have to get our country open. We want to do it safely, but we also want to do it as quickly as possible. We can’t keep going on like this. You’re already having bedlam in the streets. You can’t do this. I totally disagree with him on schools.

“Anthony is a good person, but I’ve disagreed with him. … I think that we have to open our schools,” he added.

And last month, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made a series of appearances on the Sunday news program circuit to defend the administration’s recommendations to reopen schools.

“We know that kids are suffering with many mental issues. We know that kids are suffering with social-emotional learning issues,” she told Fox News anchor Chris Wallace.

“We know that kids from vulnerable populations and homes have been suffering by not being in school and by not continuing their learning. All of those are measures that have to be weighed along with the risk of a virus, and we know again from the data that kids don’t get this virus the same way adults do,” she added.

Jon Dougherty

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