On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that all but a few states have suspended in-person classes for the rest of the year and some are bracing for continued shutdowns or part-time schedules in the fall.
So why would the president urge that schools, a contact hot spot, reopen now with only a few weeks in the school year to go and so little to gain? And do so on the same day Dr. Anthony Fauci is saying it’s almost certain the virus will return with a vengeance if we open too soon.
I have an educated guess. Two weeks ago, TV physician Dr. Oz told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that schools presented “a very appetizing opportunity” for ending social distancing. According to his calculations, resuming school “may only cost us a 2 to 3 percent” mortality rate. In hard numbers that means 1.1 to 1.7 million dead children of the 56.6 million enrolled.
Ridiculous, right? Of course it is, and Oz quickly clarified. He didn’t see an appetizing opportunity in more than one million children dying. He saw it in adults dying.
That’s a comfort. Trump is a follower of the celebrity doc—thanks, Oprah—as is Hannity, who had him on. Truth is we’re soft targets for that message. Who doesn’t want to get back to normal, which having children around the house 24/7 definitely is not? The oxymoronic phrase “distance learning” means some children will go through life having driven their parents crazy without mastering long division. Fortunately, we have the iPhone and Venmo for that. Despite the stress, 85 percent of parents want schools to stay closed.
Trump seems to have tossed out the school reopening idea with all the thought that went into suggesting we consider ingesting bleach to cure the virus. Only if you consider the Ten Commandments the Ten Suggestions would schools get the all-clear under the administration’s new Opening Up America Again plan.
It doesn’t have the loopholes of Trump’s Payroll Protection Act, which awarded hundreds of millions of dollars to Fortune 500 companies and the Los Angeles Lakers. The plan is straightforward, with tiered criteria for phased openings. Although Trump is itching to ignore it for schools, no one else is. According to Education Week’s tracker, schools that are closed will remain so for the rest of the academic year. Opening sooner is such a fringe idea that even Governor Brian Kemp, who opened Georgia’s tattoo parlors, is against it.
Premature openings, like miracle cures, are part of Trump’s push to return to his normal life of weekly golf games, monitoring the Dow Jones, and most importantly, campaigning as soon as possible. Joe Biden might be able to run for president from his basement, but Trump is convinced that the only way for the number one person on Facebook to win is to rile up his supporters in person.
He upset Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania by building up huge margins in counties surrounding places he held large rallies —70 percent plus wins in 24 out of 67 counties—easily overcoming Democratic turnout in Philly and its suburbs.
To get the country used to seeing him before large crowds again,Trump’s keeping his original plan to give the graduation speech at West Point, even though it means calling 1,000 cadets back to campus, all at the same time, with all the attendant staff, faculty, event planners, Secret Service, family, and friends that entails. And in hard hit Hudson Valley, no less. A thousand today, the thinking goes, ten thousand at the Hershey Bears' arena tomorrow.
To that end, Trump has Republicans acting as nonchalant about the virus as he is. While the House took the advice of Congress’ attending physician to stay home, the Republican Senate is returning Monday. During their brief time on the floor voting for the coronavirus aid bill last week, they didn’t wear masks, as Mike Pence didn’t at the Mayo Clinic Tuesday, and Trump never does because real men don’t. He scoffed at a reporter wearing one in the press room.
Senate Leader Mitch McConnell is calling back a vulnerable age group to a Capitol unsuited for social distancing primarily to confirm a former staffer to a federal judgeship despite his being deemed unqualified by the American Bar Association.
There’s the gym that can’t be closed because members who live in their offices need to shower, and food service that requires untested workers to show up. Is a waiter going to toss a bowl of the Senate Bean Soup from six feet away?
Because banning travel from China so that only 43,000 potentially infected people got in is proof Trump did an “incredible” job, there will be no need to take up Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s proposal to give battle pay and protection to health-care workers. The Blue Angels flying over New York in a $100,000 salute to frontline workers is all the tribute they need.
It’s not on the program for a Republican or a Fox News primetime host to note the death of ER doctor Lorna Breen, who returned to care for the dying after recovering from COVID-19 herself, but took her own life, unable to bear the suffering, her father said. She was 49.
As they did before the pandemic, McConnell and his obedient caucus have closed their eyes to see the world as Trump does. When Trump was asked at an East Room ceremony Tuesday afternoon if he’d called the loved ones of any of the 55,000 dead, Trump said, “I’ve spoken to three, maybe, I guess, four families.” He couldn’t be sure. He then pivoted back to how important it was to open schools. At this rate, he’ll soon be calling the virus a Democratic hoax. If it were up to the Senate, school bells would ring tomorrow. Thankfully, it isn’t.