Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden told NBC in his first sit-down interview since the election that he supports efforts to reopen schools as quickly as possible, conditional upon safety measures like smaller class sizes, upgrades to ventilation systems, wearing personal protective equipment, and substantial federal aid.
“I think we should also be focusing on being able to open schools as rapidly as we can,” Biden told NBC’s Lester Holt on Nov. 24, adding, “I think it can be done safely.”
The former vice president said measures to enable the safe reopening of schools would carry a hefty price tag, referring to estimates of between $150 and $200 billion for the year, saying, “it takes a lot of money to get them back.”
“We know that we have to change everything, from the ventilation systems in schools,” Biden said, adding, “we have to make sure … everyone from sanitary workers, right through to the bus drivers, they have to be clued in, they have to be protected. They need the PPE. They need the gear. They need the ability to have smaller modules of classes.”
Asked whether “our priorities are correct” under the circumstances in which in some places such as restaurants are open while schools are closed, Biden said he’s “very concerned about the schools” and mentioned having a conversation with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who told him it would cost tens of millions of dollars to be able to safely reopen schools in his city, home to the largest school district in the country.
“So there’s a lot we can do,” Biden said, adding that “the single biggest expenditure of our dollars we could engage in now” would be to provide a range of protective measures, including protective gear, as well as financial aid to businesses and other operations to allow them to operate safely.
Biden’s remarks stand in some contrast to the position on school reopening presented by the Trump administration, which has taken the stance that it is safe for schools to reopen and that shutting them down carries a range of downsides, including that it disproportionately impacts children with disabilities, mental and emotional health issues, and those facing abuse.
Vice President Mike Pence, at a Nov. 19 briefing of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said the Trump administration is opposed to both nationwide lockdowns and school closures, and noted that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has never recommended shutting schools.
“We think our kids belong in the classroom,” Pence said. “We’re absolutely committed to continue to provide resources so our kids, our teachers, our administrators can safely get back to school.”
Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the CDC, said at the briefing that a growing body of evidence about the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus supports the view that schools need not be closed.
“Back in the spring, there was limited data,” Redfield said. “Today, there’s extensive data that we have we’ve gathered over the last two to three months to confirm that K through 12 schools can operate with face-to-face learning, and they can do it safely, and they can do it responsibly.”
He said data shows that the infections that have been identified in schools actually took place in the community and in households.
“The truth is for kids K through 12, one of the safest [places] they can be from our perspective is to remain in school,” Redfield said, adding, that it’s important to follow the data, “making sure we don’t make emotional decisions about what to close and what not to close.”
Biden’s remarks in the interview largely echoed the position he outlined in his “Roadmap to Reopening Schools Safely,” in which he said that “creating the conditions to make it happen should be a top national priority,” through measures like ramping up COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, increasing the supply of PPE, including by invoking the Defense Production Act, protecting older Americans and others in high-risk groups, and providing aid to small businesses.