Trump Introduces New COVID-19 Adviser Who Backs Reopening Schools

August 12, 2020 Updated: August 13, 2020

President Donald Trump on Wednesday introduced a new White House adviser on the CCP virus and announced eight new recommendations for reopening schools.

Dr. Scott Atlas, a healthcare policy expert who is a Senior Fellow for the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, has recently begun working with the administration. Trump told reporters that Atlas is “a truly brilliant man, a wonderful man and cares about the subject” of reopening schools “very much.”

Atlas earlier in the day attended a schools event where a group of parents, teachers, medical experts, and a number of others called for the reopening of schools as an option for parents and students wishing to return.

At the event, Atlas said, “We know that the harms of locking out the children from school are enormous. And we also know, as we all would agree, that educating America’s children is right at the top of the list for our nation’s priorities.”

“I thank the President and everyone here for acknowledging these truths, and to get kids back to school safely,” he added.

scott atlas
Scott Atlas listens to President Donald Trump during a briefing at the White House, in Washington, on Aug. 10, 2020. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

Option to Stay Home

Trump announced eight “General Recommendations for All Schools” at the afternoon press briefing, and said that the administration will provide up to 125 million reusable masks to school districts across the United States to combat the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, also known as the novel coronavirus.

The Trump administration is also providing $13 billion in federal funding that states can use under the CARES Act, to be directed toward elementary and secondary schools to enable a safe reopening.

The eight general recommendations (pdf) include making sure that everyone understands the symptoms of COVID-19, ensuring appropriate social distancing, hygiene and ventilation, as well as encouraging the use of masks when social distancing is not possible. It also recommends students, teachers, and staff to “socially distance around high-risk individuals.”

Trump also announced another six recommendations for high-risk students and high-risk teachers, giving them the option to stay at home and engage in distance learning and teaching, respectively.

The six recommendations are:

  1. Students, their families, teachers, and staff should consult with their medical providers to determine if they are at high-risk from COVID-19.
  2. Provide high-risk teachers the choice to stay home and engage in distance teaching.
  3. Provide high-risk students, or students who have high-risk family members, the choice to stay home and engage in distance learning.
  4. Provide high-risk staff options to modify their work routines.
  5. Strongly encourage high-risk students, teachers, and staff to maintain social distance, avoid crowded gatherings, and wear masks when social distancing is not possible.
  6. Train school medical personnel regarding the symptoms of COVID-19; maintain isolation areas for those who become symptomatic to use while they await transportation away from school.

“All families should be empowered to make the decision that is right for their own circumstances,” Trump announced. “This is especially important if a child’s underlying health conditions or lives with her parents or a grandparent who is in a high risk.”

president donald trump
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House in Washington, on Aug. 12, 2020. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

He added, “One of the things we would like to do is—when we make payment to schools because we spend a lot of money in schools—we would like to make a payment directly to the student, to the child … that would be to the parents, essentially. We want to follow the child so that if the school is closed, the family can go to another school rather than paying the school that’s closed. We would rather pay directly, we’re following the child, where the child goes.

“We’re trying to get that approved but the Democrats don’t like doing anything unless it means doing for the union. … And I have nothing wrong with the union. I have great respect. … I think the teachers like us a lot,” Trump said. “We want to take care of our teachers. But we cannot indefinitely stop 50 million American children from going to school and harming their mental and physical and emotional and academic development.”

He also noted that the administration “stands ready to deploy CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] teams to support schools that are opening and schools that need help in order to safely reopen.”

At the conference, Trump drew a sharp contrast between the effects of the CCP virus on elderly populations compared to young populations. He noted that nearly half the deaths from the CCP virus have occurred in nursing homes and long-term care facilities with the median age to succumb to the virus being 78 years old.

“These findings underscore that all Americans must continue to apply extreme vigilance in protecting our elderly population and those who with chronic conditions,” he said.

“Outcomes are very different for younger Americans without serious health issues, tremendously different,” Trump said, noting that children “often have only mild symptoms” from the virus, and medical complications due to the virus are “very, very rare.” Those that do face complications often have underlying medical conditions, he said.

“We believe many school districts can now reopen safely provided they implement mitigation measures and health protocols to protect protect families, protect teachers, and protect students,” Trump added.

california school
Toys are scattered in the playground of an elementary school in Los Angeles, California, on July 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

CDC Guidelines Support Reopening

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on July 23 issued a new version of its CCP virus guidelines for schools to support the “critically important” return to in-person learning in the fall. The agency said that, based on the “best available evidence,” the CCP virus poses relatively low risks to school-aged children.

“Children appear to be at lower risk for contracting COVID-19 compared to adults,” the guidelines state.

The agency said, citing its own figures, that as of July 17, children and adolescents under 18 years old in the United States account for less than 0.1 percent of COVID-19-related deaths and under 7 percent of CCP virus cases.

It added that there are few reports of children being the “primary drivers” of the spread of COVID-19 in schools or in the community.

“No studies are conclusive, but the available evidence provides reason to believe that in-person schooling is in the best interest of students, particularly in the context of appropriate mitigation measures similar to those implemented at essential workplaces,” the CDC said.

The agency acknowledged that “relatively little” is known about how the CCP virus spreads to children, saying,  “While uncommon, deaths and rare illness … may occur.”

Isabel van Brugen contributed to this report.

Follow Mimi on Twitter: @MimiNguyenLy