President Joe Biden said in an interview aired Sunday it was a “national emergency” that many students have been kept out of classrooms and that there has been a staggering loss of women in the workforce because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden told “CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell” that he believed it was “time for schools to reopen safely,” ahead of the expected release this week of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guide to reopening schools.
“I think they’re going through a lot, these kids,” Biden said.
The President’s comments come amid a national debate about when and how to get students back in classrooms safely, as the pandemic continues to devastate the nation and has forced many classes completely online. They also come as women, particularly Black and Latina women, suffer steep job losses as they disproportionately work in some of the hardest-hit sectors in the pandemic, including education.
Biden, who has said he wants most K-12 schools to reopen before his first 100 days in office, emphasized in the interview the need for schools to implement stringent safety requirements to keep those in the classroom safe.
“About 20 million American children have not been in the classroom for nearly a year. There’s a mental health crisis happening,” O’Donnell said.
“There really is,” Biden said, nodding.
“Women are dropping out of the workforce,” O’Donnell continued. “Is this a national emergency?”
“It is a national emergency,” Biden responded. “It genuinely is a national emergency.”
“I think it’s time for schools to reopen safely. Safely,” the President said. He pointed to lowering the number of people allowed in each classroom and proper ventilation systems as examples of necessary protocols.
Biden said US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky would be coming out with the guidance, which he described as “science-based judgment,” as early as Wednesday.
“I think about the price, so many of my grandkids and your kids are going to pay for not having had the chance to finish whatever it was. That graduation where you didn’t get to walk across the stage,” Biden said.
Walensky said Monday that the best way to get schools to reopen safely “is to decrease the community spread,” and to keep up mitigation measures such as masking and social distancing.
“The data from schools suggest that there is very little transmission that is happening within the schools, especially when there’s masking and distancing occurring. And that when there are transmissions in the schools, it is because they’ve been brought in from the community and because there are breaches in masking and distancing,” Walensky said during a White House briefing.
Last week, Walensky suggested that schools could reopen without teachers getting Covid-19 vaccines. White House press secretary Jen Psaki initially said Walensky was speaking “in her personal capacity” and said that though Walensky was the head of the CDC, her comments were not the same as official CDC guidance. But Psaki later appeared to agree with Walensky, saying vaccinations were only part of several mitigating factors that will help schools reopen safely, including wearing masks and social distancing.
Part of the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package Biden has proposed to Congress includes additional funding for schools to operate safely in person. Biden has also signed several executive actions to help support reopening schools and establish a national strategy to get the pandemic under control.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, recently cautioned that reopening most schools within 100 days “may not happen,” as the US continues to grapple with high Covid-19 transmission. The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 463,500 Americans as of Monday morning.