By CALVIN WOODWARD, HOPE YEN and CHRISTOPHER RUGABER
FILE – In this April 27, 2020, file photo, a worker passes public school buses parked at a depot in Manchester, N.H. As the Trump administration pushes full steam ahead to force schools to resume in-person education, public health experts warn that a one-size-fits-all reopening could drive infection and death rates even higher.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s administration is providing misguided assurances on the safety of kids in school during a coronavirus epidemic.
In remarks Sunday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urged schools to provide full-time, in-person learning in the fall even with community transmission of COVID-19 rising in many parts of the U.S., suggesting that there is no danger “in any way” if kids are in school.
Her statement is unsupported. Some children have become seriously ill from the virus, and one of Trump’s top health experts stresses that data remain incomplete about potential risks they could spread COVID-19 to adults.
Meanwhile, Trump continued to spread falsehoods about how well the U.S. is doing with the coronavirus even as the U.S. is taking a disproportionate hit from it globally and does not have it under control.
A look at recent claims and reality:
DEVOS: “There’s nothing in the data that suggests that kids being in school is in any way dangerous.” — interview on “Fox News Sunday."
THE FACTS: That’s wrong. Although children are less likely than adults to develop COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has nevertheless counted tens of thousands of infections by the virus in Americans younger than 18. It’s premature to claim that there are no risks “in any way" seen in data. How significant a risk has not been established.
Apart from potential risks to kids, there is also the chance that they would spread the disease to more vulnerable adults, such as teachers, parents and grandparents.
DeVos’ false assurance overlooks severe COVID-19 illnesses and some deaths of children in the U.S., even though kids in general tend to get less sick from it than adults do. Doctors don’t know which children are at risk.
The CDC in April studied the pandemic’s effect on different ages in the U.S. and reviewed preliminary research in China, where the coronavirus started. It said social distancing is important for children, too, for their own safety and that of others.
“Whereas most COVID-19 cases in children are not severe, serious COVID-19 illness resulting in hospitalization still occurs in this age group,” the CDC study says.
In May, the CDC also warned doctors to be on the lookout for a rare but life-threatening inflammatory reaction in some children who’ve had the coronavirus. The condition had been reported in more than 100 children in New York, and in some kids in several other states and in Europe, with some deaths.
The agency’s current guidance for communities on the reopening of K-12 schools says the goal is to “help protect students, teachers, administrators, and staff and slow the spread of COVID-19.” The guidance says “full sized, in person classes” present the “highest risk” of spreading the virus and advises face masks, spreading out of desks, staggered schedules, eating meals in classrooms instead of the cafeteria as well as “staying home when appropriate” to help avert spikes in virus cases.
Last week, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus coordinator, said the U.S. hasn’t tested enough kids to actually know whether they may drive the spread of the coronavirus.
TRUMP: “Deaths in the U.S. are way down.” — tweet on July 6, one of at least a half dozen heralding a drop in daily deaths from the virus.
THE FACTS: It’s true that deaths dipped as infections spiked in many parts of the country. But deaths lag sickness. And now, the widely expected upturn in U.S. deaths has begun, driven by fatalities in states in the South and West, according to data analyzed by The Associated Press.
“It’s a false narrative to take comfort in a lower rate of death,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday. He advised Americans: “Don’t get yourself into false complacency.”
The new AP analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University shows the seven-day rolling average for daily reported deaths in the U.S. increased to 664 on Friday from 578 two weeks ago, as deaths rose in more than half the states. That’s still well below the lethal numbers of April.
“It’s consistently picking up,” said William Hanage, a Harvard University infectious diseases researcher. “And it’s picking up at the time you’d expect it to.”
TRUMP: “For the 1/100th time, the reason we show so many Cases, compared to other countries that haven’t done nearly as well as we have, is that our TESTING is much bigger and better. We have tested 40,000,000 people. If we did 20,000,000 instead, Cases would be half, etc. NOT REPORTED!” — tweet Thursday.
THE FACTS: His notion that infections are high only because the U.S. diagnostic testing has increased is false. His own top public health officials have shot down this line of thinking. Infections are rising because people are infecting each other more than they were when most everyone was hunkered down.
It’s true that increased testing also contributes to the higher numbers. When you look harder, you’re going to see more. But the testing has uncovered a worrisome trend: The percentage of tests coming back positive for the virus is on the rise across nearly the entire country.
That’s a clear demonstration that sickness is spreading and that the U.S. testing system is falling short.
“A high rate of positive tests indicates a government is only testing the sickest patients who seek out medical attention and is not casting a wide enough net,” says the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, a primary source of updated information on the pandemic.
Americans are being confronted with long lines at testing sites, often disqualified if they are not showing symptoms and, if tested, forced to wait many days for results.
TRUMP on the coronavirus: “We have the lowest Mortality Rate in the World.” – tweet Tuesday.
THE FACTS: This statement is wholly unsupported.
An accurate death rate is impossible to know. Every country tests and counts people differently, and some are unreliable in reporting cases. Without knowing the true number of people who become infected, it cannot be determined what portion of them die.
Using a count kept by Johns Hopkins University, you can compare the number of recorded deaths with the number of reported cases. That count shows the U.S. experiencing more deaths as a percentage of cases than most other countries now being hit hard with the pandemic. The statistics look better for the U.S. when the list is expanded to include European countries that were slammed early on by the virus but now appear to have it under control. Even then, the U.S. is not shown to be among the best in avoiding death.
Such calculations, though, do not provide a reliable measurement of actual death rates, because of the variations in testing and reporting, and the Johns Hopkins tally is not meant to be such a measure.
The only way to tell how many cases have gone uncounted, and therefore what percentage of infected people have died from the disease, is to do another kind of test comprehensively, of people’s blood, to find how many people bear immune system antibodies to the virus. Globally, that is only being done in select places.
TRUMP: “Job growth is biggest in history.” — tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Yes, but only because it is following the greatest job losses in history, by far.
The U.S. economy shed more than 22 million jobs in March and April, wiping out nearly a decade of job growth in just two months, as the viral outbreak intensified and nearly all states shut down nonessential businesses. Since then, 7.5 million, or about one-third, of those jobs have been recovered as businesses reopened. Even after those gains, the unemployment rate is 11.1%, down from April and May but otherwise higher than at any point since the Depression.
TRUMP: “Economy and Jobs are growing MUCH faster than anyone (except me!) expected.” — tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Not really. It’s true that May’s gain of 2.7 million jobs was unexpected. Economists had forecast another month of job losses. But most economists projected hiring would sharply rebound by June or at the latest July, once businesses began to reopen. The gains kicked in a month earlier than forecast.
Now, though, coronavirus cases are rising in most states, imperiling the climb back. In six states representing one-third of the economy — Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, and Texas — governors are reversing their reopening plans, and the restart is on pause in 15 other states. Such reversals are keeping layoffs elevated and threatening to weaken hiring.
TRUMP TEAM ON BIDEN
TRUMP campaign ad, playing out a scenario where a person needing help calls the police in a Biden presidency and gets a voice recording: “You have reached the 911 police emergency line. Due to defunding of the police department, we’re sorry but no one is here to take your call.” The ad closes with the message: “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”
THE FACTS: Biden has not joined the call of protesters who demanded “defund the police” after Floyd’s killing. He’s proposed more money for police, conditioned to improvements in their practices.
“I don’t support defunding the police,“ Biden said last month in a CBS interview. But he said he would support tying federal aid to police based on whether “they meet certain basic standards of decency, honorableness and, in fact, are able to demonstrate they can protect the community, everybody in the community.”
Biden’s criminal justice agenda, released long before he became the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee, proposes more federal money for “training that is needed to avert tragic, unjustifiable deaths” and hiring more officers to ensure that departments are racially and ethnically reflective of the populations they serve.
Specifically, he calls for a $300 million infusion into existing federal community policing grant programs.
That adds up to more money for police, not defunding law enforcement.
Biden also wants the federal government to spend more on education, social services and struggling areas of cities and rural America, to address root causes of crime.
Democrats, meanwhile, have pointed to Trump’s repeated proposals in the administration’s budget to cut community policing and mediation programs at the Justice Department. Congressional Republicans say the program can be effectively merged with other divisions, but Democrats have repeatedly blocked the effort. The program has been used to help provide federal oversight of local police departments.
Despite proposed cuts, Attorney General William Barr last month said that the department would use the COPS program funding to hire over 2,700 police officers at nearly 600 departments across the country.
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Biden “said that he would, quote, absolutely cut funding for law enforcement.” — remarks Thursday in Philadelphia.
REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE email: “In the wake of rioting, looting, and tragic murders ripping apart communities across the country, Joe Biden said ‘Yes, absolutely’ he wants to defund the police.” — email Wednesday from Steve Guest, RNC’s rapid response director.
THE FACTS: That’s misleading, a selective use of Biden’s words on the subject.
The RNC email links to an excerpted video clip of Biden’s conversation with liberal activist Ady Barkan, who endorsed Biden on Wednesday after supporting Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primaries. A full recording of that conversation, provided by the Biden campaign to The Associated Press, shows he again declined to support defunding police.
Barkan raises the issue of police reform and asks whether Biden would funnel money into social services, mental health counseling and affordable housing to help reduce civilian interactions with police.
Biden responds that he is calling for increased funding for mental health providers but “that’s not the same as getting rid of or defunding all the police” and that both approaches are needed, including more money for community police.
Asked again by Barkan, “so we agree that we can redirect some of the funding,” Biden then answers “absolutely yes.”
Biden then gives the caveat that he means “not just redirect” federal money potentially but “condition” it on police improvements.
“If they don’t eliminate choke holds, they don’t get (federal) grants, if they don’t do the following, they don’t get any help,” Biden replied.
“The vast majority of all police departments are funded by the locality, funded by the municipality, funded by the state,” he added. “It’s only the federal government comes in on top of that, and so it says you want help, you have to do the following reforms.”
BIDEN ON TRUMP
BIDEN: “President Trump claimed to the American people that he was a wartime leader, but instead of taking responsibility, Trump has waved a white flag, revealing that he ordered the slowing of testing and having his administration tell Americans that they simply need to ‘live with it.’’ – statement Wednesday marking the rise in U.S. coronavirus infections to more than 3 million.
THE FACTS: To be clear, the government did not slow testing on the orders of the president.
Trump at first denied he was joking when he told a Tulsa, Oklahoma, rally on June 20 that he said “to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please’" because “they test and they test." Days later he said he didn’t really mean it.
In any event, a succession of his public-health officials testified to Congress that the president never asked them to slow testing and that they were doing all they could to increase it. But testing remains markedly insufficient.
Associated Press writers Mike Stobbe and Nicky Forster in New York and Lindsey Tanner in Chicago contributed to this report.
EDITOR’S NOTE — A look at the veracity of claims by political figures.
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