The President, in demanding a return to class and for college football to kick off, is making education and collegiate sports the latest area of American life to be contaminated by his false narratives about the pandemic. Almost all of his assurances about the crisis — which have tended to minimize its impact and ignore science — have proven to be wrong.
But nearly six months into America’s battle with the pandemic, the country has a staggering one-quarter of all the world’s 20 million coronavirus cases. Thousands of Americans are dying every week and there are alarming new signs of further spread of the disease in the Midwest, California, Texas and some northeastern cities, even as there are some limited signs of encouragement, in lower infections in Florida for instance.
Yet Trump did what he always did Monday as he identified a preferred outcome — opening schools and playing college sports — without providing any evidence that it was safe in a virus-bedeviled nation or a plan got get back to normal.
Instead he painted a rosy, fantastical notion that the nightmare is all but over.
“At the end of a fairly short period of time, you are going to be in very, very good shape all over our country,” he said in a meandering briefing that cherry-picked statistics and was packed with misinformation and nonsensical arguments.
Study shows 100K kids infected in two weeks
Problems with the return to school and meetings of college football chiefs that could lead to the season being canceled will further fracture the President’s attempts to convince voters that he has led the way out of the viral storm. They will also hamper his efforts to distract from his mishandling of the pandemic that has suppressed his approval ratings less than three months before he asks voters for a second term.
Many US school districts and colleges across the country have defied the President’s advice to reopen and are beginning semesters online, raising the prospect of many months more at home for schoolkids, amid growing concern among parents.
Asked about the study, Trump again insisted that since most children didn’t get seriously ill it was fine to open schools and without evidence said children do not transmit the virus to other people.
“It’s a tiny fraction of death, a tiny fraction and they get better quickly,” Trump said in the White House Briefing Room.
“They may have it for a short period of time. For the most part they do very well. According to the people I have spoken to they don’t transport it or transfer it to other people very easily. I think schools have to open. It’s a very important thing for the economy to get schools going,” he claimed.
But Dr. Leana Wen, a CNN medical analyst and an emergency room physician at George Washington University Hospital, said the study showed that it would be impossible to safely open schools in districts where the virus had not been properly suppressed.
“Imagine if these 97,000 children were all in school. Imagine how many outbreaks there could be,” Wen told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin. “The lesson to take away here is that you cannot keep a school safe from coronavirus if the community is a hotbed of infection. There is just no way.”
There are already signs, in the minority of schools and districts that have already started in-person learning, of trouble ahead.
The cases do not necessarily make an iron clad case for keeping all schools closed for the months and even years that it might take to conquer the virus. Parents are desperate for kids to go back to school. The prolonged closures have had a devastating educational and psychological impact on America’s kids. Many low-income students rely on schools for their only nutritious meals. And Trump is right in the sense that the economy cannot fully recover if millions of parents lack child care with schools still out.
But the early problems with the return to classes show that arrangements are often chaotic and expose the lack of a national approach to schooling that Trump and his government could have overseen if they were serious about governing. The CDC did put out national guidelines for safe schooling — but they were heavily criticized as too draconian by the President.
Trump pushes for college football season
But the loss of big-time college football would deal another devastating blow to Trump’s claims that regular life is returning or that the pandemic is relenting.
College athletes are by definition students and are harder to quarantine than professional athletes paid high salaries for their troubles. Two major pro sports, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League, have successfully relaunched their suspended seasons in bio-secure “bubbles” in Florida and Canada respectively. But Major League baseball has had to cancel multiple games after ballplayers — traveling from series to series in the traditional manner tested positive for Covid-19. A bubble for college football, with its huge squads and coaching entourages, is impractical and it is almost impossible to envisage how the season can go ahead in any recognizable even in empty stadiums.
“The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled. #WeWantToPlay,” Trump tweeted on Monday afternoon.
In fact, if the college season cannot go ahead, Trump’s failure as President to put in place an effective campaign against the pandemic — including saturation testing and tracing and his resistance to tough measures to stop the spread of the disease — will be a major reason why.