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Remarks at White House Coronavirus Task Force Briefing

Alex M. Azar II
U.S. Department of Education
July 8, 2020
Washington, D.C

Thank you, Vice President Pence, for your leadership of the President's all-of-America approach to combating the virus, and for the focus you're putting on getting kids safely back to school.

From HHS's perspective, reopening schools safely may be the single most important thing 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 we urge individuals to think about.

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 when possible.

Reopening schools comes with some risk, but there are risks to keeping kids at home, too.

At home, kids aren't benefiting from social stimulation, they may be falling behind in learning, they may be more vulnerable to abuse that goes unreported, they may not be getting special services they need, they may not be getting the nutrition they get at school, and it may be difficult for parents to return to work.

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–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, to test their whole student bodies frequently.

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 K–12 setting.

We put out the CDC guidance to enable and support states and school districts in reopening schools safely. We want them to use the tools available to reduce risk, and we will 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 the time. 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, will be available as soon as the end of this summer or early fall. That is the first of a number of therapeutic agreements we'll do under the President's Operation Warp Speed.

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 Vice President Pence for putting such a focus on it.


Content created by Speechwriting and Editorial Division 
Content last reviewed on July 8, 2020