“You can take advantage of science and arrive at a number of different policy conclusions and guidelines that are different but still stay true to science,” said Rich Besser, former director and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC on Friday released guidelines for reopening schools setting out strategies to bring students and teachers back safely while reducing the spread of the virus. However, it was clear to the CDC that it was not mandating the reopening of schools. This bypassed the bitter struggle at the moment as teachers sought strong safeguards to return to school against some parents who want to free their children from virtual learning.
“Science has moved on,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and Biden’s ally. “It’s not a political calculation, it’s based on trying to get science to work.”
Biden administration officials insist that the White House firmly base all of its policy decisions on the best available evidence. They say the President is getting a daily update on the pandemic from his Covid Response Team in his daily information book. Indeed, the Biden government has been careful to give health professionals such as Anthony Fauci and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky a leadership role in managing the response, and has sought ongoing contributions from its health authorities and outside public health groups.
This was particularly the case in areas like school openings and travel restrictions, where administration had to navigate a maze of interests, from unions insisting on risk-free strategies, including vaccinations, to financially troubled airlines dealing with a domestic Covid -Test requirement are clear.
“There are always tricky politics when you are dealing with difficult issues,” White House spokesman Kevin Munoz said in a statement. “But this moment goes beyond politics – the lives of Americans are at stake. Our focus is on instilling confidence in our pandemic response to the American people – and that means following science and letting the experts be our guide. It won’t make everyone 100 percent happy, and that’s fine because the goal at the end of the day is to do what is best for public health. “
The science debate in particular has hampered the reopening of the White House school, which centered on the CDC’s assurances that teachers do not need to be vaccinated to return to class – even though the agency warns the general public that one Number of problems emerging Covid variants could mean the virus is more contagious than ever.
“The fact that we recommend double masking and minimizing of neighbors for Super Bowl parties – all things that make sense – in some ways contradicts guidance for teachers, especially high risk teachers,” said Vin Gupta. Professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, who advised the Biden team from an early stage. “This is about how you can ensure that public order is consistent enough not to undermine public confidence.”
Local concern is heightened because the Biden government lacks clear power to force states to responsibly open schools, regardless of what recommendations they make. Many states are already openly opposing CDC guidelines by relaxing a number of other public health restrictions in everyday life.
“People are smart and they recognize it,” said Gupta. “You won’t feel reassured just because you told them or because the data suggests it.”
Biden’s transition officers spent weeks devising plans to safely reopen schools based on best public health practices, including proposing a massive new Covid testing regime and funding hundreds of billions of dollars to upgrade classrooms and overhaul To support ventilation systems.
The vision outlined in Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion Covid aid proposal included changing classrooms to create more distance between students and buying personal protective equipment, and even went as far as to increase transportation capacity to reduce the number of people who ride the bus and get back from school together.
Despite its best efforts, the team underestimated how difficult it would be to sell the plan to the teachers unions, which had largely backed Biden’s presidential campaign – especially without the promise of a vaccine, said an adviser involved in the planning.
“We didn’t think teacher unions would be that reluctant,” the advisor said, adding that Psaki’s statement this week that reopening meant the return of children one day a week was far from the team’s original vision was.
The mixed signals have opened the government to criticism from multiple quarters, putting the White House on the defensive for the first time during the carefully choreographed launch of its Covid response.
“Science couldn’t be easier: schools must now safely open their doors to students again,” said Rep. Steve Scalisethe top Republican on the House’s coronavirus subcommittee said Friday, reiterating a view that has become increasingly prominent across the GOP over the past week. “President Biden has pledged to reopen schools in 100 days and follow science. Instead, he broke that promise and followed the leadership of radical unions.”
Meanwhile, a contingent of Biden allies has questioned why the White House has been so relentless that states reopen schools – without being equally vocal about putting teachers at the top of vaccination lines. Although Walensky said on Friday educators should be prioritized, she only downplayed the shots as an “extra layer of protection”.
Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert who served on Biden’s Covid-19 advisory board, predicted that Biden would soon face an even more critical crossroads in his quest to reopen schools and warned that the emergence would be Rapidly spreading variants of the country’s worst pandemic could still rise.
“I think this discussion will soon be in vain,” he said, pointing to the variant that has already forced European countries to close their schools. “If B117 takes over in about six weeks, our whole country with this virus will be nearing its darkest days.”
Osterholm has long been a proponent of the resumption of learning in the classroom. But the US is not vaccinating people at the rate it needs to prevent the variant from spreading and is likely to force the government to abandon its most ambitious reopening goals.
“The government has to understand that and tone down its message accordingly,” said Osterholm.
When asked if the White House recognizes the gravity of the threat to its political goals, he replied, “There are some who clearly do. And I think they’re trying, “he said.