The Biden administration’s messaging on school reopenings has been so mixed and erratic that even some voices at CNN, a notoriously left-wing network that’s mainly coddled the administration thus far, have taken note.
The messaging around vaccinating teachers has been just as convoluted. The CDC has, for its part, said that vaccinating teachers is a priority but not mandatory. Yet, repeatedly asked during an interview Wednesday whether it’s “safe” for non-vaccinated teachers to return to teaching in-person, Vice President Kamala Harris refused to answer.
“The CDC a few days ago finally put out some long-awaited guidance on how schools could safely reopen,” NBC’s “Today” show co-host Savannah Guthrie said in an interview with Harris Wednesday.
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But she could not seem to get Harris to directly answer her repeated questions about when it would be “safe” for teachers to return to school, even if they’re not vaccinated.
“Can you reassure teachers who are listening right now that it is safe for them to go back to school — even if they are not vaccinated — if these public health measures like distancing and masks are being implemented?” Guthrie pressed.
“So first of all, let me just say this, and the president has said it, and we’re all really clear: Teachers should be a priority,” Harris said, going on to emphasize how much she loves teachers.
“Teachers are critical to our children’s development, they should be able to teach at a safe place and expand the minds and the opportunities of our children. So teachers should be a priority, along with other frontline workers, and we’re going to make them a priority,” she added.
“But if they’re not vaccinated, is it safe for them?” Guthrie interjected.
“Well I think that we have to decide if we can put in place safe measures, this is why it’s so important we pass the American Rescue Plan,” Harris responded as the “Today” co-host jumped in again to get an answer.
“I don’t want to beat it to death but I just, I know there are teachers listening, and the CDC has said they don’t have to be vaccinated to go back to school, of course it’s the priority…” Guthrie said.
“We think they should be a priority,” an apparently flustered Harris replied. “We think they should be a priority. We think they should be a priority, and the states are making decisions individually about where they will be on the list of who gets vaccinated. I believe they should be a priority, the president believes they should be a priority.”
Wednesday on CNN’s “The Lead,” host Jake Tapper specifically called out the “conflicting stuff” from the White House, while his colleague Abby Phillip went so far as to accuse the administration of perpetrating “doublespeak.”
The remarks were made after CNN White House correspondent Phil Mattingly ran a report contrasting the administration’s constantly changing message.
First President Joe Biden vowed to reopen all schools within his first 100 days in office. Then the goal switched to only reopening them for one day a week. White House press secretary Jen Psaki ostensibly clarified the matter this Wednesday by claiming the one-day-per-week goal “was our floor … not our ceiling.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has argued that the notion of teachers needing to first be vaccinated before returning to in-person teaching is a “non-workable situation.”
But at the same time, during a CNN town hall this week, Biden himself urged for a focus on vaccinating teachers — versus pushing teachers to return to school.
Yet a day after the town hall, White House COVID coordinator Jeff Zients announced that both Biden and Harris agree with the CDC’s guidelines.
“We’re hearing a lot of conflicting stuff from the White House, especially right now about when the vaccines will be widely available, what counts in terms of reopening schools,” Tapper noted after Mattingly’s report concluded.
“I think mixed messaging is a little bit of an understatement. … There’s been a lot of doublespeak,” she said.
“It seems to be just about politics, which is this idea that they can’t seem to just give a simple answer about what the science says about when schools should reopen, and what they might want from a political perspective before that happens,” she continued.
“I think Jeff Zients … laid it out pretty clearly. It’s still puzzling to me why the president and vice president won’t say this themselves,” she added.
Appearing on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” later Wednesday evening, Dr. Marc Siegel wholeheartedly agreed, particularly with the point about it all being political.
“I coined the term a year ago ‘follow the science.’ I think we’re among the first to say it, and now everybody says it, but you know what it really means? [It’s] the code word for political expediency. Follow the science if it agrees with you,” he said.
“Follow the science if the CDC is what you wanted to say and you’re not fighting the teachers unions. Then it’s sacrosanct, but otherwise, if they’re pushing too hard, you say it’s only a recommendation, if you’re the vice president, only a recommendation, only a guideline,” he added.
“But here’s what it actually says: Though outbreaks do occur in school settings, multiple studies have shown that transmission within school settings is typically lower than or at least similar to levels of community transmission. Well, the CDC in the same guidelines is clear: Kids don’t get sick very often, they don’t transmit it to teachers, they have very mild cases. The schools need to be open,” Siegel continued.
“So why is this political expediency occurring? Why is the [Biden administration] moving the goal post, the medical goal posts, and now hyper-focusing in on community spread when we have just read that it doesn’t spread to schools more than in the community?” he asked.
And does the administration realize it’s hurting children?
“I follow two oaths: first, do no harm, and the second one, look at the patient as a fellow creature in pain. When I see kids hunkered down in front of computer screens, their eyes growing red, unhappy, I see a creature in pain,” Siegel said.
And what he’s seeing is accurate.
“Pediatricians are warning that the coronavirus pandemic’s protracted disruption of in-person schooling, sports and other activities is leading to weight gain that could have long-lasting impacts on children’s health,” The Wall Street Journal reported last weekend.
This weight gain is tied to both depression and drops in academic performance.
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“Even kids in grammar school are getting depressed. They miss their friends. A lot of them aren’t doing as well academically. With depression also comes weight gain. They’re bored, and I think they’re comfort-eating,” Brittany Wilson, a New York physician assistant, said to the Journal.
There’s a cure for this, though, according to Siegel: “But when I see kids together in a school with their partners, with their pals, playing a sport, maybe exercising, smiling, seeing their teachers … that is the cure.”