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Despite virus surge, Trump pressures schools to resume in-person classes this fall

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The summer surge of COVID-19 is raising more and more questions about reopening schools this fall. That issue was at the forefront today, even as daily deaths nationwide rose to nearly 1,000, the most in weeks.

    White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage.

  • Vice President Mike Pence:

    It's time for us to get our kids back to school.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    President Trump and federal officials are stepping up pressure on schools to push them to get back to in-person classes.

    Today, Vice President Pence and several top administration officials repeatedly stressed that students need to be in school this fall. Pence called it essential to nationwide learning.

    Education Secretary Betsy DeVos joined in:

  • Secretary Betsy Devos:

    It's not a matter of if schools should reopen. It's simply a matter of how. They must fully open and they must be fully operational.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia argued, the economy cannot fully recover if schools stay closed.

    Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia: It's very important as well to keep men and women across the country who need to be able to structure their workdays in a predictable manner, in the expectation that schools will be open.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The briefing came hours after President Trump tweeted a threat to cut off federal funding for schools that do not reopen.

    The vice president said, President Trump was just trying to incentivize schools. President Trump also criticized the Centers for Disease Control. He tweeted he disagreed with the agency's — quote — "very tough and expensive guidelines for opening schools." He claims the CDC is requesting schools to do — quote — "impractical things."

    The CDC rules include enforcing masks for students and staff, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, and spacing desks at least six feet apart, when possible.

    At today's briefing, Vice President Pence said the CDC will be issuing new guidance as a result of the president's criticisms of the current ones.

  • Vice President Mike Pence:

    The president said today, we just don't want the guidance to be too tough. And that's the reason why, next week, the CDC is going to be issuing a new set of tools, five different documents that will be giving even more clarity on the guidance going forward.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Critics say, President Trump pushing to reopen schools too quickly could be dangerous.

  • Lily Eskelsen Garcia:

    Because if you don't get this right, if there's an oops here, it probably means somebody died.

    When that starts to happen, they will close schools down again. That will impact the economy. That will impact the funding for public school. It will be a vicious, vicious cycle.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Meanwhile, local officials are making their own plans for the upcoming school year. Today, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that, starting this fall, most schools in the city will open for part of the week.

  • Mayor Bill De Blasio:

    Two or three days in the classroom, in the school, the other days, remote learning. Of course, we understand some families will choose remote learning as the only option.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    At the collegiate level, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the Trump administration over its decision to deport international students who study at universities that are offering online-only schooling.

    The lawsuit says — quote — "The effect or even the goal is to create as much chaos for universities and international students as possible."

    All of this as infections are still rising in 36 states, including Texas, which had a record 10,000 new cases as of Tuesday. Another hot spot, the state of Florida, reported almost that many.

    But, at the same time, labs nationwide are reporting testing backlogs and supply shortages. Officials warn, the backups may increase as more states lift restrictions.

    Still, Vice President Pence said today there are hopeful signs.

  • Vice President Mike Pence:

    We're actually seeing early indications of a percent of positive testing flattening in Arizona and Florida and Texas.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Around the world, infections across Africa have now topped half-a-million, with South Africa confirming it has 100,000 cases.

    Officials say a shortage of testing supplies means the actual number of cases are likely higher.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Yamiche Alcindor.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, was not at today's Coronavirus Task Force briefing.

    He told CBS that he was told not to attend. On Tuesday, President Trump rejected Fauci's view that the country is still — quote — "knee-deep" in the pandemic's first wave. The White House said that the president values his advisers, but does not always agree with them.

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