From New York Times, I'm Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily. Today, across the world, no country with infection rates as high as the U.S. has tried to reopen schools. Pam Belak on the potential risks and rewards of that plan. It's Wednesday, July 22nd. Pam, where does the United States officially stand on reopening schools in the fall?
So officially, the Trump administration has been saying in recent weeks that it really wants schools to open.
Well, good morning, all. The White House coronavirus task force met today here at the Department of Education.
There was a press conference earlier this month where Vice President Pence and a string of administration officials were basically saying it's absolutely essential that we get our kids back in the classroom or in person learning schools should open.
Ultimately, it's not a matter of if schools should reopen. It's simply a matter of how they should do so.
You know, at the beginning of the school year, they must fully open and they must be fully operational.
Basically what they're saying is what is not the intent of CDC guidelines is to be used as a rationale to keep schools closed.
Health concerns, safety concerns. None of that should get in the way of reopening schools this fall.
Right. I watched that news conference and the message was very clear and it was very unified. And I'm curious if it had the intended effect of making school districts across the country say, oh, OK. Well, that's what we'll do.
It really didn't. I think it was alarming for a number of school districts and certainly for public health experts.
This nonsense this week of politicizing schools and politicizing health care and the well-being of kids was destructive and reckless.
They were saying, hey, we all agree that it's a really good goal to open schools, but you can't just press a button and say, presto, school's in session.
Don't be reckless with our kids and our teachers.
And actually, there's been sort of a turn in the other direction in the last few days where increasingly the large school districts anyway, have said we really don't think we're gonna be equipped to open in person in September.
It's hard to teach kids anyway. This is the hardest thing we've ever done in our lives. But we got to do it together. And what the president did was just reckless and, frankly, destructive.
So here you have the federal government saying do this and do it now. And local school districts starting to say, no, we don't think that's a great idea. And of course, that's why we talk to science reporters like you, Pam, because you can help us negotiate these two polls.
So I wanted to hear you can you can explain what the science is starting to tell us about this question of reopening.
Yes. So do way there's two types of science here. So there's the science of why children should be back in school. And then there's the science of weather and how they should get back to school. And the science of why they should be back in school is really that it's so important, particularly for younger children, to have an in-person educational experience, be able to interact with peers, be able to have Face-To-Face communication with teachers. And unfortunately, at least what we think in the short term, the legacy of the pandemic so far has been that online learning has not been successful for many children, particularly young children.
And also schools serve really important functions for children's mental health, for their social development. They're really kind of the lifeblood of the community in more ways than just two plus two equals four. So that's the first type of science. The second type of science, the science of whether schools should reopen looks at the virus, how it spreads and who can spread it. Now, the science is preliminary right now. Nothing is 100 percent certain. But there are three things we can be pretty sure about.
One. Children do not get sick with corona viruses, often as adults. Number two, when they do get sick, they are much less likely to get seriously ill. The data seems to show that about two percent of kids who are getting infected are getting very sick, we think. So that's a good sign. And three and this is less definitive, but there's growing evidence that younger children say age 10 and under are less likely to spread the virus than older children are.
The idea being that little kids don't transmit the disease as often. Yeah.
One study that suggests this was a study that was done in France in a. MUNITY, where two teachers in a high school got very sick while school was still in session. Back in February, and then the researchers went and tested the students and teachers and staff in that high school for antibodies to the corona virus to indicate whether they had been infected. And they found that about 40 percent of the students and teachers had been infected with KOVA 19. That's a pretty high rate and tells you that that virus was really circulating in that high school.
Well, school was in session. Then they went to six elementary schools in the community and they did the same testing of students and teachers and staff. And they found much lower rates. Only about nine percent of kids and about seven percent of teachers came back positive with antibodies for the coronavirus? S much lower. Yeah, that's significantly lower. And they didn't find any evidence that the students who were infected actually infected other people. So this suggests researchers think that little kids are less likely to spread the corona virus to other people, which would seem to mean, although I understand it's just one study.
But to the degree it tells us something, it tells us that perhaps elementary schools would be a safer choice to reopen. Then, for example, middle and high schools.
Exactly. Which is really nice to know if that's true, because, of course, it's the younger students who are much more in need of the in-person instruction and much less able to handle online instruction independently. And there's another, you know, kind of set of anecdotes and some data that also builds that whole idea. And some of that comes from the United States, you know, daycare centers, a number of them stayed open during the pandemic, especially for children of essential workers.
And so far, there have been very few outbreaks that have occurred at those daycare centers. Pam, I'm curious what the science tells us about countries that have actually begun to reopen their schools. What are we seeing so far?
So let's look at it country by country. There are some countries that have had very successful school reopenings and there are some countries that did not do so well. So let's start with the successes. Best examples are probably Norway and Denmark. In Denmark, they brought only the younger students back first. They had them eat lunch separately. They had their desks six feet apart. They have lots of cleaning and hand washing and they had them in small groups. So kids were in groups of maybe 12 students and one teacher.
So they kind of created small little cohorts that would limit exposure. Exactly. Only expose one of the twelve people around you, not the entire class.
Exactly. And this is you know, some people are calling them pods, some people calling them bubbles. This is a kind of main feature of what public health experts are suggesting for schools, because it not only limits the number of kids that a single kid could infect. And, you know, the number of teachers and that kind of thing. But it makes your contact tracing very easy. If one of those kids get sick, you know, all the suspects, you know, who might have either infected that kid or been infected by that kid.
And you don't have to necessarily close your entire school to deal with that case or two of Koven 19. You can just say, hey, these 12 kids from, you know, first grade, you have to be at home for the next two weeks, but the rest of the school can go on.
Mm hmm. And so what do the infection rates look like inside schools in Denmark and Norway? Is it working?
It worked out really well. I mean, they have had, you know, no outbreaks reported in schools. They have had no increase in their cases, in their community. And they ended up being able to bring their older kids back to school later on as well. So they are kind of the models.
OK, so before we get her hopes up, what countries have been less successful and maybe even failed? So I think one of the countries has had some issues has been Israel, which reopened schools, and you'd think they would be set up pretty well because they didn't have a lot of cases in their community. They started school in early May. They started with classes and in small groups. I think they called them capsule's. But then within a couple of weeks, they relaxed the class size restrictions.
And that appears to have been too soon, because not long after that, they ended up having outbreaks in something like 130 schools, cyle and two hundred and forty something positive tests among students and teachers. So they ended up having to, you know, tighten things up again. So we'll just move too fast.
Yeah. But help me understand something. If kids are not great transmitters and kids tend not to get serious infections. What does it mean to have 200 kids in a country get infected in a school? Is that even so worrisome? Well, it's a really good question. I mean, I think we don't really know the answer to that fully, but ideally you want to try to limit your cases as much as possible because every kid is going to have contact with, you know, concentric circles of other people.
And if they're able to spread it to just one person and that person can then spread it to other people who are a lot more vulnerable, then, you know, the risk just increases and increases. And that's what we don't want to happen. Right. And, you know, there are also problems in Sweden. And Sweden is kind of the example of a country that never closed its schools. And for them, they didn't take any real precautions in society either.
So they had a couple of teachers and staff members die in schools. So they did end up having to close at least one school because there were so many staff members that got sick. And we don't have a lot of really good data because they didn't do a lot of testing. So we don't really know how many students got infected. But we do have some data where it looks like there was a relatively kind of high rate of children and teenagers who they did test who were positive for Cauvin, 19 antibodies.
So at least it suggests that it certainly was present in schools and could have caused some other infections in their country.
Know, one other pattern I've noticed, Pam, is that with the exception of Sweden, the countries that you've mentioned that have reopened, they've all pretty much had the virus under control. And although it's been kind of mixed bag, it feels like the results are very much tied to the fact that these countries didn't have massive outbreaks. Definitely. I think, you know, that is one of the main ingredients that public health experts say that you need is to try to get the virus under control in your community before you throw open the doors of schools.
And, you know, here in the United States, we have the administration wanting to, you know, kind of rush in to opening schools, but we don't have it under control. We've had record numbers of cases in recent weeks. And so we've never really had a country that has tried to do this with the kind of unbridled, out-of-control spread that we have now in the United States. We'll be right back. Add into it, we know that millions are struggling financially, including many who are unemployed or self-employed.
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So, Pam, with those lessons from overseas in mind and acknowledging the reality that the Kobe 19 crisis in the U.S. is pretty unique and pervasive, how are schools in the U.S. starting to plan for the fall and the possibility of reopening?
So the CDC has outlined steps that schools can take and they include a lot of the things that we have seen. Some of these other countries like keeping desks six feet apart and lots of hand washing and having good ventilation, ideally, and having cloth masks that most teachers and students wear. So we're getting some guidance from the federal health authorities. But this is the United States and most school decisions are made at a very local level. So what you have is this kind of really messy patchwork of school districts across the country trying to figure out what they are going to do and what they can do safely.
And they're looking at things like how big is their school building? How good is the ventilation in their school building if they keep students at home for online learning? How many of their students don't really have good Internet access and that's not going to work for them. How vulnerable are their teachers? All sorts of things like that. It is a very complicated situation and it's going to be different in every single community.
I wonder if you can give us some specific examples of how within this patchwork, different communities across the country are approaching this.
Sure. So you have New York City, which is, you know, by far the largest school district in the country. And they came out about a week or two ago saying that they were going to try a plan that would be called sort of a hybrid plan. They're going to try to bring students back to school one to three days a week. And the rest of the time they'll be online instruction. They're, you know, placing some emphasis on bringing back students with special needs because those are considered to be the kids who are most vulnerable and really, really need to have in-person instruction as well as the younger kids.
But then you have some other big school districts like Los Angeles and San Diego and Houston and Atlanta, Nashville. They have all decided just very recently that they cannot make it work safely in person right away. So they are at least going to be starting their school year with exclusively online instruction. Pam, when we talk about reopening, this is true of our conversation so far, we tend to talk mostly about students. So I want to talk about teachers.
I mean, inevitably, the risk to an adult teacher of catching the coronavirus in a school would seem significantly higher than a student. So how much do all these plans we're talking about take teachers into account?
Yeah, absolutely. They are definitely at much higher risk. And you have a lot of teachers who are, you know, in their 50s and 60s who are in more vulnerable age groups. I know a lot of the districts are serving their teachers and finding that a lot of their teachers are very concerned. And some of them are saying they won't go back into the classroom unless there are certain precautions taken that they feel make it safe for them. And then there are other teachers who are, you know, very eager to get back into the classroom because they really value being able to teach kids in person.
And when I think about that guidance from the Trump organization that we started this conversation with, that very emphatic encouragement to physically reopen schools.
It's really interesting because embedded in that is the assumption that teachers would show up and do that work, which really means asking teachers whether they want to or not, whether they're reluctant or eager to act a bit like the frontline workers we think about when we think about nurses or police, they are the front line workers.
Yeah, they are really caught at the crossroads of this because they see the value of going back into the schools. They want to go back into the schools. They also want to keep themselves and their families safe. So I think there's a range of voices. My impression is that school districts are listening to teachers just as they are other constituencies. And, in fact, kind of reminding their parents that it's not just about the students, but that it is also about the adults who teach their students.
So, Pam, I know you may not have in front of you a map of the entire country and a list of every school district. But but in general, from what you can tell, is the United States leaning towards physical reopening, remote learning or some very frustrating sense of indecision and flux? I mean, where's the majority of the nation's school system at this moment?
You know, a week ago, I would have answered that question by saying that I thought most school districts were going to try to do some type of in-person instruction and maybe a lot of them wouldn't get there 100 percent, but they were at least going to try for half and half. But in the past week, we have seen these major school districts and states say we are not ready. Too many people have covered 19 in our state and we cannot take the risk.
And so we have to at least start the school year the same way we ended the school year with online instruction only. I think there's just so much kind of uncertainty about getting this under control in the larger community. And, you know, schools are not island schools are part of the fabric of the community. What happens in the community is reflected in the school.
Well, you're saying that the fear is that even the best systems we could possibly put in place in U.S. schools, those would be undermined by the prevalence of the virus in the communities where the schools would be reopening may not amount to much if the entire community around that school is saturated with the coronavirus, which is pretty much the story of many communities in the U.S. right now.
It is pretty much the story in many communities. So, yes, I think it's a very precarious situation. And most experts would say get your community under control and then open your schools slowly, incrementally, with lots of safeguards in place, and then you'll have a good formula for keeping things under control.
So so knowing we are not there with this under control, where does that leave? Schools, school districts, teachers, parents?
I think you are going to have a lot of very stressed out students, parents and teachers for at least the beginning of the school year. Maybe it'll light a fire under communities and and get places where they weren't wearing masks and they weren't social distancing to take that seriously. What better goal could there be than getting things together so that. Or school can open safely. You're saying that potentially the best argument for the entire American society to change its approach. This is so that we can open schools.
I mean, you know, you can definitely see an argument that it's much more important to be able to get your school open than to open your bars, open your bowling alleys, open your fitness centers, although it hasn't been framed that way. It has not been framed that way. Pam, thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much and good afternoon. Today, I want to provide an update on our response to the China virus.
Weeks after he ended regular briefings about the coronavirus, President Trump resumed them on Tuesday with a rare acknowledgement of how serious the situation has become in the U.S..
It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better. Something I don't like saying about things, but that's the way it is.
It's the way Trump appeared without key members of his coronavirus task force, like Dr. Deborah Burks and Dr. Anthony Foushee, who spoke during his previous briefings. But the president embraced their advice about wearing masks.
And we're asking everybody that when you are not able to socially distance, wear a mask, get a mask, whether you like the mask or not, they have an impact. They'll have an effect. And we need everything we can get.
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Senate Republicans outlined their latest economic relief package on Tuesday, which includes billions of dollars for schools, direct payments to families, and a fresh round of funding for small businesses hurt by the pandemic. Congress faces intense pressure to pass a new relief bill since benefits passed in the first round of stimulus like enhanced pay of six hundred dollars a week for those who lost their jobs will expire at the end of the month.
Senate Republicans have said that they plan to scale back those payments.
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