Press Briefing by Vice President Pence and Members of the Coronavirus Task Force
July 8, 2020
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, good morning all. The White House Coronavirus Task Force met today, here at the Department of Education, as part of our ongoing effort to focus on a mission to save lives, meet the needs of our states and our healthcare workers, to protect the vulnerable, and to safely reopen America and reopen America’s schools.
As you will hear today from Admiral Brett Giroir, at this point, we have tested more than 39 million Americans. Among those, more than 3 million Americans have tested positive and more than 1.3 million Americans have recovered. Sadly, more than 133,000 Americans have lost their lives, and our sympathies are with all of the impacted families.
And while we mourn with those who mourn, because of what the American people have done, because of the extraordinary work of our healthcare workers around the country, we are encouraged that the average fatality rate continues to be low and steady. And at days earlier this week, it was actually 90 percent lower than at the height of this pandemic.
Again, it’s a credit to the sacrifices the American people have made, to the extraordinary work that our healthcare workers are doing. And we pledge that this task force, working in partnership with governors all across the country, is going to continue to work our hearts out 24 hours a day to continue to keep our losses low.
In just a few moments, Dr. Deborah Birx will outline the data that we’re seeing around the country. We’re tracking literally state by state, county by county. But as she will describe in a moment, we’re actually seeing early indications of a percent of positive testing flattening in Arizona and Florida and Texas. Governors in each of those states have taken strong steps to flatten the curve. And again, as Dr. Birx will describe, we’re beginning to see early indications that positivity is flattening, and in Arizona and Florida, we’re beginning to see declining numbers of emergency room visits as well.
We believe the takeaway from this for every American, particularly in those states that are impacted, is: Keep doing what you’re doing, because we’re starting to see the first indications that as we were able to do in the Northeast, as we were able to do in New Orleans and Louisiana and Michigan and other places around the country, we’re putting into practice those mitigation efforts and we’re beginning to see indications that they are having a good effect.
We are focused on the states where more than half of the new cases have arisen — Texas, Arizona, Florida, and California — and have received encouraging reports even through this morning: strong supplies of PPE in hospitals; hospital capacity remains strong.
The one need that we did hear from governors across the region is for personnel. And over the last week, working through FEMA, the Department of Defense, and HHS, we’ve been processing requests to deploy over 1,070 doctors and nurses and medical personnel. At this point, roughly 525 doctors and nurses are on the ground in Arizona, California, and Texas, and we’re processing a request from Florida for an additional amount.
We’ve made it very clear as we — if you’ll recall, we deployed, at the President’s direction, active-duty military medical personnel to New York, to New Jersey, to Connecticut, to Michigan, to Louisiana, and we’re in the process of doing that again just to make sure that those dedicated doctors and nurses and healthcare workers have the relief that they need as we see cases rising in various communities across the Sun Belt. And we’ll continue to work that.
We had a conference call yesterday with the nation’s governors. We are in the process of continuing to send, every week, detailed county-by-county summaries, analysis, and recommendations to governors that are being — that are being implemented and well received.
We also are issuing renewed guidance on preservation and reuse of PPE. Again, what we’re hearing, in not just speaking to governors but talking directly to hospitals, is that, frankly, because of the historic effort that President Trump implemented to spin up hundreds of millions of supplies of gloves and masks and face shields and — as well as the construction of ventilators — we now have 59,000 ventilators in our supplies — PPE, we hear, remains very strong, but we’re encouraging healthcare workers to begin now to use some of the best practices that we learned in other parts of the country to preserve and to reuse the PPE supplies.
So our focus is to make sure our states have everything they need, when they need it. And we’re working closely with all the governors to make that a reality. But what brings us to the Department of Education is, as we — as we see to the needs of our states and we focus on the healthcare of the American people, we’re working to reopen America and to reopen America’s schools.
And yesterday, President Trump convened a summit of education leaders and health officials at the White House. And as the President made clear yesterday: It’s time. It’s time for us to get our kids back to school. And the summit yesterday gave us an opportunity to outline and to learn what we might be able to do then.
In just a few moments, I’m going to ask Secretary DeVos to talk about the approach the Department of Education is taking to assisting local communities and states in bringing their schools back online. And also, we’ll hear from Dr. Bob Redfield, who has been literally, since early in this pandemic, providing guidance to schools and will be issuing additional guidance next week.
I wouldn’t want to pass the opportunity, though, not just as Vice President but as someone who’s been married to a school teacher now for 35 years, just to say — to say thank you to all the teachers out there. From early in this pandemic, teachers learned how to do the distance teaching and did a remarkable job, oftentimes having to care for their own families and make sure their own children’s studies were happening. So to all of our — America’s teachers, we say thank you.
We also want to say thank you to the parents — the parents who had to step in and become educators for all of their kids. It’s really been remarkable when you see what our kids have been able to accomplish during this difficult time.
But what we heard again yesterday from education officials and what we heard from the American Academy of Pediatrics: It’s absolutely essential that we get our kids back into a classroom for in-person learning. We can’t let our kids fall behind academically, but it’s important that the American people remember that for children that have mental health issues, for special needs children, for nutrition for children in communities facing persistent poverty, the school is the place where they receive all those services.
And so this is not just simply about making sure our kids are learning and they’re advancing academically, but for their mental health, for their wellbeing, for their physical health, for nutrition. We got to get our kids back to school.
And as you heard the President yesterday and even again this morning, we’re absolutely determined to work in partnership with our states to give the guidance for states and communities to be able to safely reopen our schools. The CDC will be issuing new guidance next week — part of a five-part series of recommendations that will give all-new tools to our schools.
But what Dr. Redfield made clear yesterday I’m sure he’ll make clear again today, is: We’re here to help. We don’t want federal guidance to be a substitute for state and local laws and rules and guidance. We’re here to assist with the shared objective that I think is shared by every parent in America, which is we want to get our kids back. We want to get them back in the classroom. We want to get our teachers back in the front of those classrooms. We got to get our kids learning, in person, once again.
As Congress is still in recess but will gather again soon, we already are in discussions about additional potential support, although we were able to remind governors that $13.3 billion is available in the CARES Act for states, to be able to assist them as they roll out and restart schools across the country.
At the present moment, we learned yesterday that only 1.5 percent of those funds has been drawn down by states, and we encouraged the governors to take advantage of that.
Our objectives, as I said, are to save lives, meet the needs of our states and their healthcare workers, protect the most vulnerable, and safely reopen America, and safely reopen our schools.
And the good news is we are — we are reopening America. The jobs report last Thursday spoke for itself: Nearly 5 million jobs created. And I can tell you, evidence all around the country is that the American people are finding a way to do their part to put the health of their neighbors first, even while we all find a way to get back to work, to worship, and to school.
And we all have a role to play to slow the spread, to protect the most vulnerable, and to safely reopen our country and our schools. And so I would just — I would just close, before I turn the podium over to Dr. Birx for her report, just simply to say thank you to the American people. Thank you for what you’ve done so far. Thank you for the way you’ve put the health and wellbeing of not just family members and friends, but strangers — people you didn’t even know — first.
And we just encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing: Keep heeding the guidance of state and local authorities. Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands. Wear a mask wherever state and local authorities determine it’s indicated, or wear a mask where you can’t engage in social distancing.
This is the role each of us can continue to play, and we’re seeing some early indications in some of the most impacted states that Americans are doing just that. So we want to encourage you on and tell you that we’re going to continue to do our part.
And I’m just absolutely confident — just as we proved when this pandemic was striking so deeply in the Northeast, when it was striking in Louisiana and in Michigan — the American people know what needs to be done, and we know we can do it.
And we flattened — we flattened the curve before, we slowed the spread before, and we can do it again. But we’ve got to all do our part, and we’ll do it together.
With that, Dr. Deborah Birx. And then we’ll get a report from Admiral Giroir before we move on to other reports.
DR. BIRX: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. If I could have the first slide, please. And I know some of you do watch what I wear, so I’m wearing this specially today. This came from the Salt River tribe. I just want to — masks can be a fashion statement.
And I want to thank the Salt River tribe. It was a real pleasure to be out and speaking to individuals around the United States about the issues that they’re facing with COVID-19, to be able to meet with communities, hospital personnel, African American communities, Hispanic communities, and our (inaudible) tribal nations. That was a privilege last week.
I want to start with Arizona, just to pick up where the Vice President left off. That orange line is the number of tests performed, and the blue line is the test positivity. Now, this is at the level of the state. And Arizona does have three counties that we’re tracking very closely, obviously you know that the largest one being Phoenix and Maricopa County. But this does show that the blue line, which is a five-day — a seven-day average — and thank you to the data team for these wonderful slides — the five — the seven-day average is showing some flattening, and we find that encouraging.
Also equally encouraging at this point — because we know that the test-positivity rate is the first thing to increase, and we’re hoping that it heralds a stability in Arizona of at least reaching a plateau in their curve.
The red line represents the emergency room visits for any of the COVID-like symptoms. And this is also an early indicator, and we find that encouraging.
The next slide does show the counties that we’re tracking. Obviously, the largest county being Maricopa County with the largest number of infections, but clearly there’s issues in Yuma and Pima.
The Vice President mentioned the weekly reports that go to governors. This is what the report looks like. It (inaudible) their full-side pages.
This is Alaska’s. On the front page is our interpretation of what we’re seeing, relevant to their epidemic, with specific recommendations related to where we see them, as far as being in a danger zone. They are coded by yellow and red. And it follows that they see everything you’re seeing on that first report in boxes — warning boxes — and then each of the counties are represented so that they have, in one place, five pages from the White House and task force that summarizes what we’re seeing. And that goes out weekly.
Next slide, please.
This looks at Florida, and you can see, in the same way, the red line — early suggestions of decreasing emergency room visits for the symptoms of COVID and some stability starting in that blue line. Hoping that heralds stability in the number of daily reported cases.
We also understand that we went through a holiday weekend, and holiday weekends can impact datas on both ends: underreporting through the weekend and then catch-up reporting on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday after a holiday weekend.
This shows the counties of Florida that we’re tracking. These are the top 10 counties in Florida, and you can see each of them have a different profile.
I want to call your attention to the counties that are across the bottom there that are more difficult to see. Some of those represent Jacksonville and other large metros, including Tampa. When the governor talks about how they were “steady and low” for a long period of time after reopening, this is where that is reflected for almost five weeks after reopening. Clearly, there was something that happened though. And those that we’re looking into across the board — because whatever happened in Florida happened across the Sun Belt, and that all of the curves and all of the findings are mirrored.
If you remember early on in March and April, we were talking about, first, the New York metro, followed by Boston, followed by Philadelphia, then Chicago — and New Orleans was with the New York metro. And so it was a series of individual curves.
In this case, whatever occurred occurred almost simultaneously across the South. And so we’re investigating that very closely to really see the etiology behind that because that can help us as an early warning signal, but also help us in guidance to the American people of what we’re asking them to do.
Texas. And you can see Texas is in a similar situation with their blue line. And we’re watching this very closely across Texas.
But I think all of you know that there is a series of major metros in Texas with significant increase in cases from Houston to Dallas to San Antonio to El Paso and McAllen area. And so the governors get this type of report with specific recommendations.
And then, finally, California, where you can see — next slide, thank you — again, a long time of stability, but then this increase in the number of test positives and rapid increase in cases.
And you can see the majority of the issue is in the Los Angeles area, although we see this through Riverside, Imperial, Sacramento, and now San Francisco with increased number of cases.
So I want to finish with where the Vice President started: about the sacrifices of the American people. Because in that recommendations are very clear recommendations that when you have a county with these types of cases, we are recommending everyone using a face covering. And I think the studies now that have been done, showing that cotton face coverings work, that does open up the ability for us all to have individualized face coverings that express our personality.
But in addition, I think the work that these governors have done to — and ask the American people is it’s stop going to bars, to close the bars, to move to outdoor dining, to decrease indoor — any kind of indoor gatherings again. To all of the Americans out there that are in these four states and the states that have — in the report, were in the red zone — because there’s a series of other states that we have in that zone — is really asking the American people in those counties and in those states — in those states to not only use the face coverings — not going to bars, not going to indoor dining — but really not gathering in homes either and decreasing those gatherings back down to our phase one recommendation, which was 10 or less.
So, thank you. Thank you, Mr. Vice President.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Admiral, report on testing.
ADMIRAL GIROIR: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Since we’re bragging on our face coverings, this was made by a small religious community in Pennsylvania, who were helped by the Public Health Service, and they hand sewed these for a lot of our officers to match our operational dress — those blue uniforms. So, I wear this proudly, and I think of that community every single day — everybody pitching in across America to help us all.
So, in terms of testing, I want to cover three quick topics. First one is just where we are numerically. The Vice President has already said, we are now topping 39 million tests across the country. The states really crushed their goal in June. The state goals was about 12.9 million in June; CDC numbers have finalized that at about 16 and a half million tests for June. So, congratulations to almost all of the states who made their goal and exceeded their goal.
We’re doing very well right now, between 6- and 700,000 tests per day. We did top the 700,000 mark last week, and we’re averaging about 620-630,000 tests per day. We continue to ship. We are ripe with swabs and media. So the states tell us what they need. We work with them to set those goals, based on their state testing plans.
After technical assistance by the CDC and my office, FEMA ships those every week. Now that’s along with ASPR — the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response — at HHS. So that’s sort of the overall general view.
We announced, yesterday, what we talked about a little bit last week, and that is federal surge sites. We opened these in three communities. There was a list of communities identified by Dr. Birx and her team that had certain characteristics of their infection trend, but also met certain characteristics of numerical numbers in isolation that surge testing might have an impact over a short period of time.
So our goal, in those communities, is to do at least 5,000 tests per day. And those are in Baton Rouge, Jacksonville, and McAllen — the McAllen in Texas. And we have many other sites that we’re working with. Again, this is a partnership with the state and local governments to make that happen. They’re up and running and testing in all three sites. Baton Rouge started yesterday, the other two sites start today, and we already have almost 6,500 appointments already made this morning. So that’s going very, very well.
The last thing I wanted to talk about is Phoenix. And I don’t know if we have the slides for this. I get just a little bit concerned when I hear things in the news, like “we’re doing nothing for Phoenix” and “the federal government hasn’t been doing anything with Phoenix.” Because that really is not correct, and it undermines a lot of the things that we’re doing.
I’m going to show you some slides. I didn’t make these slides up. My team — this was part of a 55-slide deck — 55-slides slide deck just on Phoenix, where we understand the demographics, the health disparities, the income levels, the racial and ethnicity backgrounds, where the tests are done, where the resources are. This is how we really work the issues.
So, first of all, we’re in constant contact with Governor Ducey and his team. His state health officials are outstanding. We not only talk on the calls, but we have frequent calls. And I know Dr. Redfield does this as well, and Ambassador Birx does this as well.
Number two, we provide support according to the state plans. Just in the last two months, we’ve shipped over 500,000 swabs and media to the state to fulfill their plans.
In terms of Phoenix — if I can get the first slide back, please — I just want to say that, yes, we have lots of support in Phoenix. This is the community-based testing locations. I didn’t decode this because it’s right out of my slide deck. Phoenix has three federally funded retail sites. This is paid on a per-capita basis. You come up and get a test. These sites — not these three sites, but this overall program has tested just under a million individuals, and they’re located specifically in communities of high social vulnerability. We have three there.
We also have 13 — what we call “3.0 sites.” These are retail pharmacies that, because of our regulatory flexibility, they can do that without a federal stipend or grant. They do this just through the insurance Medicare and Medicaid billing system. So, those are 16 federal sites we have in Phoenix.
I don’t know if there’s a map to go with that, but under the leadership of Secretary Azar, we’ve really surged into FQHCs — Federally Qualified Health Centers. This is where you really want testing to happen because these are medical homes for those who are indigent and underserved. We have 28 FQHCs sites performing testing just in the Phoenix area right now.
We don’t have that slide, but let me talk about — we’ve also identified every single testing machine in Phoenix. So there are testing machines to do tens of thousands of tests per day. And we’re sending at least 100,000 — okay, maybe it’ll come up, maybe it won’t, but at least 100,000 assays to the Phoenix area every week.
So these are all the things we’re doing in the background, that happen on a regular basis, that we do community by community by community.
Now, two days ago, I heard that Mayor Gallego was unhappy because there was no federal support. I heard that on Monday — on Monday morning. I was on the phone with the FEMA representative in the afternoon. It was clear to me that Phoenix was not in tune with all the things that the state were doing. We convened a call last night, where we had Governor Ducey’s people on the phone, where we had the mayor’s people on the phone, where we had various health officials on the phone. We got everybody together, understood where the gaps are. There’s a surge from Arizona State. There are a surge in testing sites that are state testing sites in Phoenix that are up there.
And this morning, Governor Ducey looked at everything, thought a surge site would be helpful in west Phoenix. He requested that, and we’re contracting that right now.
So I just wanted to give you that example because it really pains me when somebody says the federal government isn’t doing anything, when we have 41 federal sites there. We’re sending supplies, we’re sending tests. And we work with the governor every day. And if there’s an appropriate request and it’s on the list for Dr. Birx, which it was, we will send a surge site. And that’s what we’re doing; we’re contracting that this afternoon.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good job, Brett. Thank you, Admiral Giroir.
As we said, the focus today is on safely reopening our schools. And as we discussed yesterday at the White House summit, from very early in this process, the Centers for Disease Control has been issuing guidance for schools and for childcare services, in early March — March the 12th, to be specific. And when we first published the “15 Days to Slow the Spread” and encouraged people to engage in schooling from home, wherever possible, from that point forward, CDC has published decision trees about how schools can begin to develop reopening plans, and just last week, published new guidance for K-12 schools.
But next week, as Dr. Redfield can elaborate in a few moments, they’ll be issuing five new documents that’ll range from preparing communities to return to school safely, to decision-making tools for parents and caregivers, and to create symptom screening considerations as children and teachers return to school.
But as we made clear yesterday, we’ll make clear again today: We’re here to help. And none of the CDC’s recommendations are intended to replace state and local rules and guidance; that what we’ve made clear to governors and to state and local health officials is CDC stands ready to work with local officials as they tailor their plan for reopening their schools. But we’re all committed to getting our kids back in the classroom and getting them back in the classroom this fall.
With that, I want the Secretary of Education to reflect on the efforts she’s making here at the Department of Education, then we’ll hear from Dr. Redfield, and then a few wrap-up comments from Secretary of HHS before we go to questions.
SECRETARY DEVOS: Thanks, Mr. Vice President. Thank you so much, Mr. Vice President. Thanks for hosting the task force here today. We are so grateful to the President and to you for your leadership on doing what’s right for students.
Yesterday we had a really good and important conversation at the White House with local leaders and great teachers and parents. It was insightful and inspiring. And as Mrs. Pence noted, these past few months, parents have worn multiple hats. They really are our unsung heroes, and I might add, as the Vice President noted, as are the teachers who were often playing dual roles as parents themselves and continuing to help their students learn.
She also said — Mrs. Pence also said that as we reopen businesses, restaurants, theaters in our country, we simply can’t leave out our schools, and that is so correct. Students can and must continue to learn full-time.
I’ve been really inspired by the innovative teachers, schools, and their communities that have kept learning going through this past few months, and they’re getting ready to do it again this fall.
A couple of great examples in Harlem and the surrounding boroughs in New York: Success Academy moved to distance learning in one week, using multiple technology platforms. Teachers there insisted on learning new materials, right along with their students. The students were still graded. They made sure all the students had the needed tech that they did not maybe have at home, initially.
Miami-Dade County used its existing instructional continuity plans to make a seamless transition to distance learning. They added interventions for students who were struggling already before the pandemic.
The International Leadership Academy in Texas started from the mindset that not learning wasn’t an option for any student. They delivered multilingual and special education curriculum to all of their students. There were a number of schools and districts across the country that did an awesome job of transitioning this spring. And there were a lot in which I and state school leaders were disappointed in that they didn’t figure out how to continue to serve their students. Too many of them just gave up.
The Center for Reinventing Public Education said that only 10 percent across the board provided any kind of real curriculum and instruction program.
And, as I said, I’ve talked to all of the state school chiefs at least once, most of them more than once, and they’ve told me that while many of their districts in their states have done well through the past several months, a number of them, they were very disappointed in, in doing next to nothing.
And then we see as we talk about reopening schools, there are some creating false paradigms for the fall. And here, right in our neighborhood, the D.C. area, Fairfax County, which is one of the most well-funded — I would call it an elite public school system in America — offered families a so-called “choice” for this fall: either zero days in school for their students or two days. And their springtime attempt at distance learning was a disaster. I have to — I give this as an example because things like this cannot happen again in the fall. It would fail America’s students, and it would fail taxpayers who pay high taxes for their education.
Ultimately, 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. And how that happens is best left to education and community leaders.
I really appreciate something that Secretary Azar reiterated yesterday at the White House. It’s the Surgeon General’s prescription for healthcare, and I’m going to repeat it again because it bears repeating:
First, ask yourself what’s your individual circumstance. Are you or is someone in your home vulnerable? Second, what’s going on in your community? Is the virus widespread or is it isolated? And third, think about the kind of school activity that you’re talking — that you’re thinking about how to — how to accommodate and deal with.
What needs to be in place for things to be successful: Education leaders need to examine real data for their own states and communities and weigh the risks. Local leaders in every community need to ask these questions and consider all the risks. Physical health and safety are factors — so is mental health; so is social emotional development; and importantly, very importantly, so are lost opportunities for students, particularly the most vulnerable among us and students with disabilities.
The American Academy of Pediatrics noted: Keeping schools closed “places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality.” The Pediatrics guidance concluded that everyone “should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” “Fully open” and “fully operational” means that students need a full school year or more, and it’s expected it will look different depending on where you are.
What’s clear is that students and their families need more options. I’ve talked a long time about the need to rethink education and the — to expand education options for all students. This moment really demands action, and America always was, and is, and always will be a country of doers.
We are confident that with grit and determination and a measure of grace, we can and will do what’s right for all the students in our nation. Thanks very much.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Dr. Redfield.
DR. REDFIELD: Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President. First and foremost, I want to make it very, very clear that the guidance that CDC continues to put out for schools K-12 and higher learning is intentional for reopening and keeping our schools open. That’s its purpose. We recognize that there’s a variety of unique circumstances for different schools and different school districts, and so we’ve outlined a number of strategies that those schools, those administrators can use to accomplish this goal safely.
But I want to make it very clear that what is not the intent of CDC’s guidelines is to be used as a rationale to keep schools closed. We’re prepared to work with each school, each jurisdiction to help them use the different strategies that we propose that help do this safely so they come up with the optimal strategy for those schools.
I think it’s critical — and it would be, personally, very disappointing to me and, I know, my agency — if we saw that individuals were using these guidelines as a rationale for not reopening our schools.
I think there’s a series of different additional guidelines that we are about to put out to help, really, with the K-12 community, particularly at the community level, to help open safely. Guidelines also that come out were consideration documents for parents and caregivers; guidelines for schools to help them understand how best to do symptom surveillance and characterize symptoms in the schools as a tool; and guidelines to really work out how — and the ins and outs of using face mask in the school setting; as well as, finally, some guidance and to help the schools have systems which they can monitor their programs.
But I want to close by just reiterating again: The purpose of CDC’s guidance is — remember, it’s guidance; it’s not requirements — and its purpose is to facilitate the reopening and the keeping open the schools in this country. Because as the Vice President said, it is critical that we get these schools open and do it safely. We’re prepared to work with all the school districts and schools to help them facilitate their development of their own unique plan to accomplish that.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thanks, Dr. Redfield. Opening up schools is the right thing to do for our kids so they don’t fall behind academically and also so that children that are in need of services — special-needs children, children with mental health issues, nutrition needs — have the support that they receive at the schools.
It’s important, though, for parents and for working families. And we — I asked Secretary Scalia to be here from the Department of Labor to speak about the impact on — as we put America back to work, making it possible for us to have single parents back in the workforce, it’s essential that we get our schools open as well.
And so I wanted Secretary Scalia, and then of course Secretary of HHS, to finish our remarks before we go to questions.
SECRETARY SCALIA: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. It’s good to be with you all today. For reasons that Secretary DeVos has mentioned and that the Vice President mentioned, of course, having our schools open is so important to our children’s education. But as the Vice President has said, it’s very important as well to working men and women across the country who need to be able to structure their workdays in a predictable manner. And the expectation that schools will be open and their children will be able to be in school so that the parents, in turn, can have a predictable schedule that they bring to the workplace, of course, that’s important to our business places as well. And in that sense, it’s really critically important to our national reopening.
One study has suggested that if we closed all our schools and daycare for just a month — just, hypothetically, if we did that — the impact on U.S. productivity would be in the order of $50 billion. That gives you some sense of the impact having our schools closed can have on our national recovery.
I did want to mention a couple of groups in particular to whom this is very important. First: lower-wage workers. One of the great triumphs of the economy that we enjoyed until the virus came was how well lower-income men and women were doing in the workplace. We, as you know, had unemployment that tied a 50-year low. We had record low unemployment for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and others. And we had rising wages; wages actually rose about 15 percent for lower-income men and women during the first three years of this administration.
Unfortunately — and a number of people have observed this — it’s the lower-income workers who’ve been particularly adversely affected by some of the shutdowns that we’ve had in response to the coronavirus.
Unemployment among the lower-income workers has been higher than for other populations. And therefore, for them, having schools reopen so that they can themselves have predictable schedules, be able to return to the workplace, is going to be very important. They hold jobs that are less likely be jobs by which you can telecommute. I think many of us know that, even telecommuting, there are burdens being placed on mothers, fathers who are getting up a little bit earlier or staying up a lot later to get work done, to plan around caring for their children in the interim. But for lower-income men and women, that option often is not even available.
And then, second, let me comment briefly on working women, who — studies show and I think the experience of many of us reflects that it’s women in the household who quite often bear the larger burden when it comes to caring for children. Studies show this. And again, prior to COVID, another great success of the economy we were enjoying was the employment rate for women. The unemployment rate for women was actually lower than for men, right before the virus came. But unfortunately — and this is a statistic we’ve been tracking — we see that the unemployment rate for women now is higher than it is for men.
Now, we made great progress in June. The Vice President mentioned the extraordinary jobs report. We’ve put seven and a half million Americans back to work in just two months, and the unemployment rate for women dropped nearly 3 percent in June.
But still, we have important work to do, and we know that working women will have a harder time getting back to the workplace. They continue to cite childcare at a much higher rate than men do as a reason that they’re not able to work. And so for them, too, reopening our schools will be very important.
Look, just to wrap up — and it’s such an important sense the pace and structure of our national life is built around the expectation that our young people will be in school, in person, during the school year. That’s so important for them, but it’s also vitally important for their parents, and in that sense, so critical to this reopening that is proceeding very well, economically. But to keep going, we need our schools open in the fall.
Thank you very much.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Great. Thank you, Gene.
SECRETARY AZAR: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Vice President, for your leadership of the President’s all-of-America approach to combatting the virus and for the focus that you’re now putting on getting our kids safely back to school.
From HHS’s perspective, reopening schools safely may be the single-most important thing that we can do to support healthy families during this pandemic. All decisions about undertaking activities during COVID-19 have to look at risk as a continuum, not a binary question. States and school districts can think about the same things that we urge individuals to think about.
As Secretary DeVos noted, our Surgeon General has come out with his “prescription for health.” Ask yourself three critical questions: Where are you? Is there significant community transmission of the virus in your area? Whom are we talking about? Children are much less susceptible to severe outcomes from the virus than adults. And what activities are we looking at?
There are more and less risky activities for schools, like keeping kids in the same classroom versus changing classes, avoiding large gatherings, and doing activities outside whenever possible. Reopening schools comes with some risk, but there are risks to keeping kids at home too.
At home, kids aren’t benefitting from social stimulation. They may be falling behind with learning. They may be more vulnerable to abuse that goes unreported by the mandatory reporters in our school system. They may not be getting special services they may need. They may not be getting the nutrition that they get at school. And it may be difficult for parents to get back to work, as Secretary Scalia noted.
This issue, like so many considerations around safely reopening, isn’t about health versus the economy, but about health versus health. All of this is why the American Academy of Pediatrics has strongly recommended beginning with the goal of having students physically present in school. This goal is the right way to use the extensive guidance that CDC has put out to help each state and school district think through a safe reopening.
Last week, we put out guidance around testing for K-through-12 schools. This guidance, like our guidance for colleges and universities, offers recommendations for how and when students, teachers, and staff should be tested.
While CDC does not make a recommendation in favor of universal testing, it’s a perfectly appropriate surveillance technique where the capacity exists, and capacity is growing all the time. We’ve talked with colleges and universities that are able to use their research lab capacity with pooling of multiple samples to test their whole student bodies and staff frequently, thanks to regulatory flexibility that CMS and the FDA have provided.
Many of the leaders we heard from yesterday at the White House School Reopening Summit are doing testing before returning to school, and then sentinel surveillance.
On top of that, the measures we recommend universally — like keeping a distance, wearing a face covering, and frequent hand washing — are effective and can be applied in the college or the K-through-12 setting.
We put out the CDC guidance to enable and support states and school districts in reopening safely. We want them to use the tools available to reduce risk, and we’ll be putting out more guidance on how schools can use each of these tools, such as face coverings.
On top of that, I will reiterate that our set of tools is expanding all of the time. Just yesterday, we signed a new agreement with Regeneron to provide nearly half a billion dollars in support for a promising therapeutic, all the way to manufacturing hundreds of thousands of doses for the American people. The initial doses, pending approval, would be available as soon as the end of this summer or early fall. That is the first of a number of therapeutic agreements that we will do under the President’s Operation Warp Speed initiative.
Promising therapeutics are already being administered every day by our heroic healthcare workers. I want to thank these heroes who continue to put themselves at risk, caring for those suffering from the virus. We know many frontline workers have gotten sick, and we know some have given their lives, including some of my employees in the Indian Health Service, and America is deeply grateful.
It is because we are making progress against the virus and learning more about it every day that we can talk about how to bring America’s kids and teachers back to school safely. We have the tools to do it, and it has to be a top priority.
So thank you to President Trump and the Vice President for putting such a focus on this very important aspect of our road to recovery. Thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Great job. Thank you.
Right here. Please.
Q Mr. Vice President, in the President’s call to reopen schools, is there a situation in some states, if the health situation doesn’t allow for this, where you would be supportive of some states continuing distance learning?
And we now see the President threatening to cut off funding for schools. Is that a serious threat? And what would that look like?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the principle behind our approach to this coronavirus pandemic has been to provide federal support as states manage their own response. And what I can tell you is, in the weekly reports that we provide governors, we’re down to the county level in terms of where the new cases are, where the positivity lies.
And I think we would account for the fact that while we hope — we hope every school in America is able to open this fall, there may be some states and local communities that, given cases or positivity in that community, may adjust to either a certain set of days or certain limitations. And we’ll be very respectful of that.
What the President has made clear, though, is that we think it’s absolutely imperative that every state and territory in this country make — make steps and — takes steps, rather, to get kids back in the classroom to the fullest extent possible.
We really believe that every state has the ability to do that. But for those individual communities that may be seeing outbreaks, we’ll work with them, give them the guidance and the support to be able to implement the policies that they deem are most appropriate.
Our mission here is to safely reopen our schools. And as you’ve heard from all of these members of our task force, it’s — it’s not just about kids learning and not falling behind academically; it’s about all the vital services that children receive at our schools, it’s about working families, it’s about opening up America again. And so we’ll continue to drive on that.
On your second point, I would tell you that, at this point, I think 90 percent of education funding comes from the states; roughly 10 percent, depending on states’ budgets, come from the federal government. And as we work with Congress on the next round of state support, we’re going to be looking for ways to give states a strong incentive and an encouragement to get kids back to school.
Please, go ahead.
Q Thank you, Mr. Vice President. The President tweeted this morning that he disagrees with the CDC’s very tough and expansive guidelines for reopening schools. Do you also disagree with those guidelines? And are you concerned that you may be putting the health of students and teachers at risk by trying to meet the President’s demand to reopen?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the President and I spoke about that this morning. And I think what you will see in the coming days, what you heard from Dr. Redfield yesterday at the summit and again today, is very consistent with the President’s objective and the concerns that he’s raised.
We don’t want the guidance from CDC to be a reason why schools don’t open. We want to partner with states, with local education officials, with governors, with local health officials to find a way to meet their needs to open up. And I think the President’s statement this morning was simply reflective of that desire.
And — but we remain very confident that as we continue to provide resources, we’re seeing not just — not just K-through-12 education; I mean, all 47 states and two territories have already published plans and guidance for reopening their schools. And we reiterated to the governors earlier this week, and again at the summit yesterday, that we’re really here to partner with them to achieve that.
I think what the President was saying this morning is that if there are aspects of the CDC’s recommendations that are prescriptive or that serve as a barrier to kids getting back to school, we want — we want governors and local officials and education leaders to know that we’re here to work with them to support the measures they’re putting into place.
But I think that every American — every American knows that we can safely reopen our schools. And we just want we want — we want — we want, as the President said this morning, to make sure that what we’re doing doesn’t stand in the way of doing that.
Q Can I just follow up on that, sir?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Go ahead.
Q Just to follow up, when we’re talking about the health of children though, shouldn’t the guidance be tough and should no expense be spared?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m going to ask Bob Redfield to speak to that. And one of the things that we have seen — and I tell you as a parent as much as your Vice President and the head of this task force, I’ve been — I’ve been grateful for it, is that apart from having an underlying health condition, children do not appear to be susceptible to serious illness from the coronavirus. Dr. Birx can speak to that statistically on a global basis, and that’s been a blessing for Americans and American families.
And so, as Secretary Azar just said, we know that the risk of serious illness to children is very low. And there are measures we can put into place to make sure that we don’t — we don’t see the spread of a virus or outbreaks in individual schools by having children learn in a single classroom or learn outside as often as possible and not go into larger settings. And this is all the kind of guidance that the CDC is putting forward.
But I’m going to let Bob Redfield speak to that because we really do believe that we can open these schools safely, given the — what we’ve seen in terms of outcomes among children, and also the kind of measures that we think we can put into effect to prevent the spread.
DR. REDFIELD: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. I think it’s really important to be clear that our recommendations to open these schools are really based on the sound public health and safety and health of children.
I think you heard already from some of the speakers, there’s substantial health consequences that we’ve seen as a consequence of schools being closed, whether it’s access to mental health services or it’s access to nutrition. Clearly, we know a lot, and I think it’s important that we don’t react emotionally, but we act based on data.
Clearly, the ability of this virus to cause significant illness in children is very, very — very limited. We know of the host immune inflammatory disease that you’ve heard about, but it’s very rare. But in general, this virus does not cause significant illness in children.
Secondly, and I think it’s important, unlike influenza — where one of our biggest concerns — is we’ve been able to show that it’s really schools and children that become the instrument of transmission throughout our community with influenza. We really don’t have evidence that children are driving the transmission cycle of this.
The most important thing, as we reopen schools — and as I mentioned before, we’re prepared to work with every school and every school district to help them find the right mixture of strategies for them to do this safely. Our recommendations are not requirements, and they’re not meant to be prescriptive. We have lots of different options on how the schools can put it together.
But what we do want to reiterate, as we reopen schools, is to remember the importance of protecting the vulnerable. That, we will be strong on. It’s important to limit the ability of individuals with significant comorbidities, individuals that happen to be elderly with comorbidities. We want to limit those individuals, their interactions in general and in society, independent of the schools.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thanks, Bob.
Now, let me say, just also in response to your question: I would recommend that every American review this statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics that released an important report, indicating that there are real physical and mental cause for children to be deprived of an in-classroom setting. It ranges from nutrition to children that have special needs.
We heard from Dr. McCance-Katz that some 7 million children in America deal with mental health issues, and the services and the counseling they receive, they receive at their schools.
And so we want to put the health and wellbeing of our kids first. And given the fact that children, as Dr. Redfield said again, do not appear to be susceptible to serious outcomes from the coronavirus, we want to put their — the totality of their health and their wellbeing forward. And that all tells us, it tells the President, it tells this task force, that means we need to get our kids back to school.
Q Mr. Vice President, thank you. So you’ve articulated the problem — the myriad risks that students face if they stay out of school come the fall. But what’s the plan? What’s the administration’s specific plan in terms of increased testing, contact tracing, increased PPE, if it’s needed, to support these schools?
As you well know, schools weren’t built for students to socially distance. They were built to pack in as many kids as humanly possible, which is one of the reasons why school districts — like Fairfax, Virginia; the school district in New York; Texas — they have moved to this hybrid approach: some virtual learning, some in-person learning. So what’s the plan?
And then, I have a question for Dr. Birx about kids and COVID, if I may.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the plan is to continue to do what we have done from the very beginning. As you heard again this morning, we’re — we’re at, I believe, 39 million tests that have been performed all across this country. You heard Admiral Giroir describe the extraordinary commitment in just one community alone. And what we’ve conveyed to governors is: Whatever support they need to get kids back to school, we’re going to make sure that they have. We’re going to make sure that they have the testing resources.
We’re currently educating states on the possibility — and working with commercial labs — on the possibility of what’s called pooling, so that, literally, there could be one test run on, say, 10 samples. And there are — there are particularly universities that already have built into their plans the idea of testing all of their students at the beginning of the academic year, and then doing surveillance testing.
But we made it very clear — whether it’s testing, whether it’s personal protective equipment or other resources — that we stand ready to provide those resources to the states. And we reiterated that once again to the governors.
But the good news is, because of the historic mobilization that President Trump initiated, we literally have hundreds of millions of supplies of personal protective equipment, 59,000 ventilators in the Strategic National Stockpile. Testing is scaling all across America. And we know that come the school year, we’ll be ready to meet those needs.
But — question?
Q Yes. Thank you. Dr. Birx, what’s the infection rate among children? And what’s the very latest in terms of — that you know — in terms of how the virus presents in children; how children transmit the virus to older adults? Nearly a third of teachers across this country are age 50 and older. And what’s the best practice in terms of testing children? I’ve never heard of a case where a school child is tested for COVID-19.
DR. BIRX: Those are all good questions, and I think it really comes to the evidence base of what do we have as far as testing and children. So if you look across all of the tests that we’ve done, and whether — when we have the age, the portion that has been the lowest-tested portion is the under-10- year-olds. So we’re putting into place other ways to get testing results from them and looking at antibody in that discarded samples, and try to really figure this out, because parents have really done an amazing job of protecting their children.
I think Americans have done a great job in keeping infection rates low in children, and in the sheltering time, and keeping infection rates, right now, in this new cases. Originally, I think we saw great protection of people with comorbidities.
We are worried now that as cases spread, that it’s getting to the older parents and the grandparents. And I call on, again, every multi-generational household: Get tested and protect those in the household.
And we do know that there are children with vulnerabilities, and certainly within the CDC plan and Department of Education, it’s protecting those children also from getting exposed to the virus, because we do know there are children with comorbidities. We know that there are children in America with cancer and getting — undergoing chemotherapy.
But when you ask that question, the parents have so protected their children. And remember early on, we said: Test if you have symptoms. And now we know that if you’re under 18, the majority of you don’t have symptoms. And so, really figuring out — and there’s universities working around the country on a saliva test, so it’d be easy — easier for children to put saliva in a tube. Just, basically, what we call spitting in a tube or spitting through a straw into a tube. And looking at that kind of innovation and testing.
And what Admiral Giroir has been working on very hard is this antigen-based testing and getting that equipment into the vulnerable areas like nursing homes, assisted living, and other places, but also considering how a school district could use that would make it much easier to test and to use saliva.
So all of those are being worked on, and it’s why we’ve been pushing on the antigen test. I know you’ve heard me talk about that in April. We’re pushing on that because we think it is important for testing of students and testing in universities.
But we have the — our data is skewed originally to people with symptoms, and then skewed to adults over 18. And so we are looking very closely into that category by using our antibody tests.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Did you want to talk about the risk to children (inaudible)?
DR. BIRX: I think the Vice President covered that incredibly well. We know the mortality rate in under 25 from the CDC data is less than 0.1 percent. And so that has been holding.
But until we know how many have been infected, we have no evidence that there is significant mortality in children without coexisting diseases. And that’s what we’re looking for right now, is to really make sure we’ve unturn- — overturned every rock and understand that in deep detail.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thanks, Deborah. Right here, and then there.
Q Mr. Vice President, we all know the CDC guidelines are not requirements, they’re advice.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right.
Q And is the President, when he calls it “too tough” or “impractical,” making it easier for Americans and for school officials to ignore that advice?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I have every confidence that governors and state education officials and local health officials are going to implement the policies that they think are in the best interest of children and families.
And I think the President’s sentiment this morning, I think, is shared widely by the American people and certainly by members of this task force. We want to make it very clear that — that — excuse me — the guidance that we’re issuing is not to supplant the laws, the rules, the regulation of the decisions at the state level; it’s meant to create essentially a range of options.
And what we made clear to governors on the governors’ call this week, specifically, was that we are prepared at the CDC to sit down with state officials and to work through their plan and be able to advise and dialogue with them about the best way forward.
But I must tell you that, in this role over the last four months, I’ve been impressed by governors in both political parties and health officials in all of our states and our territories with the way they’ve put the health of their people first.
And — but I must also say that I have a great sense, talking to governors — and a great sense that this is something the American people want to see happen. And governors are hearing that, they know that, and that’s why you have 47 states that have already issued plans or guidelines. And we’re going to work with them to make those a reality.
AIDE: Last question, guys.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay.
Q Thank you, Mr. Vice President. I have two questions: one for you and then one for Dr. Redfield. Can you explain why the President is threatening to cut funding from schools at a time when educators are saying they need more so they can safely reopen?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Kaitlan, first and foremost, it’s — what you heard from the President is just a determination to provide the kind of leadership from the federal level that says that we’re going to get our kids back school because that’s where they belong. And we know, based upon what our best health officials tell us, that we can do that in a safe and in a responsible way.
But to be clear: The current CARES Act provided $13.3 billion to support education efforts in states in the midst of the pandemic. We’re going to work with Congress; we expect there’ll be additional support there.
But the President is just very serious. For all the reasons that we discussed today, he believes and we believe it’s absolutely essential for our children’s academic development and — and for their social and emotional and health and nutrition needs to be back in the classroom. And we’re going to provide the leadership from the federal level to do that.
But that being said, I — I will tell you, I sense a great desire among governors around the country to find a way forward. And we’ve made it very clear to them that we’re going to partner with them, providing them with the resources to impact that and also the supplies.
Q But you’ve said — you’re saying it’s a — describing it as a local decision. So shouldn’t it be up to them to decide if they can safely reopen and not the President saying he’s going to pressure them to do so?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I’ve — look, we’re going to respect those unique communities that may have challenges — that have rising cases or rising positivity. And — but I think you look at the nation as a whole. I think what the President of the United States has made clear is: He thinks, as we reopen America, we need to reopen America’s schools.
It’s just as the President said early in this pandemic: that he wanted to get our places of worship back open again. I think what you’re seeing the President provide is leadership. And what we’re providing from the White House Coronavirus Task Force is partnership with the governors and with state health officials because we just got to get — we got to get our kids back.
I have to tell you, the best expert I know on this topic is my wife Karen. And she’s spoken at the summit yesterday very compellingly about how a lot of our kids are hurting out there. They’re struggling with loneliness, with social isolation. The American Academy of Pediatrics spoke about that — a very forceful statement from pediatricians across the country that said we got to get our kids back into school.
Q But do you think (inaudible)?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: So, what you’re — what you’re going to see, Kaitlan, is the President is going to continue to provide leadership. I expect the — as the debate in Congress goes forward about additional resources, we’re going to look to build in incentives for states to go forward.
But President has made it clear — and I think most parents in America would agree with him — that we got to get our kids back to school, and we got to get them back into the classroom, and we can do it in a safe in a responsible way.
Q My question for Dr. Redfield —
AIDE: Thanks guys.
Q I have a question for Dr. Redfield.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That’s okay.
Q I have a question for Dr. Redfield.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Bob, a question.
Q My second question: Dr. Redfield, you’re talking about the guidance that the CDC has put out. It sounds like you think it is in the best interest of students and ways to safely reopen schools so far. So are you going to change that guidance because the President said that he does not like it?
DR. REDFIELD: Well, I think I just want to reiterate: We’re going to continue to work with local states and jurisdictions. I think the guidance that we’ve put out gives a series of different strategies for them to consider what is the most appropriate in their unique situation to adopt. Again — and I want to come back to the goal, and the goal of this is to get schools reopened.
I did mention and I want to reiterate: That goal is just not a goal to reopen schools. That’s the goal because we believe that’s in the best public health interest of the students for the reasons you’ve heard.
Q (Inaudible) why did you change that guidance?
DR. REDFIELD: We will continue to develop and evolve our guidance to meet the needs of the schools in the states that we continue to provide that assistance to.
AIDE: Thanks, guys. Thanks, guy.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I’m sorry. I can’t hear your question.
Q Mr. Vice President —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Go ahead.
Q For the guidance — the guidance recommends that schools have social distancing of students, six feet apart. And that’s why these schools are adopting these hybrid models is because they don’t feel they can keep students six feet apart within their — within their building.
So I’m just wondering if that particular part of the guidance is something you’re rethinking? Or do you support that social distancing inside schools? Because that’s where schools, I think, are having trouble.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the President said today we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough. And that’s the reason why, next week, 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. But we know each school system, you know, has unique capabilities, different facilities.
And what parents around the country should know is that we’re here to help. We’re here to work with their governors, with their local education officials to get our kids back to school.
I mean, the truth of the matter is that, as we — as we reopen America, we’ve got to — we got to reopen our schools for the wellbeing of our kids, for their academic advancement, for working families. But also, as you’ve heard again today, for — to continue the momentum that we see in this economy that we saw last week with nearly 5 million jobs created.
I want to promise the American people: We’re going to stay focused at this task force on saving lives, meeting the needs of our state and our healthcare workers, on protecting the vulnerable, and reopening America’s economy, schools, work, and worship.
So thank you all very much. We’ll talk to you in a few days.