Betsy DeVos and Mike Pence. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Trump administration is engaged in a full-court press to reopen schools this fall: The president threatened this morning to cut off federal funding if schools don't reopen, and claimed — without evidence — that Democrats want them closed through November for political reasons.

What they're saying: "Ultimately, it's not a matter of if schools should reopen — it is simply a matter of how," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said, assailing "elite" D.C.-area schools for their "disaster" of an attempt at distance learning this spring. "They must fully open and they must be fully operational."

Why it matters: Virtual learning isn't as effective, and schools provide critical in-person resources for kids with disabilities, mental health issues and nutritional needs.

  • Millions of parents need their kids back in schools so that they can fully reenter the workforce. The burden of extended closures will hit hardest along class, racial and gender lines.
  • The question is how to reopen safely: So much is uncertain about the role of children in spreading the coronavirus, which could affect teachers and at-risk adults at home.

Driving the news: Vice President Pence said today that the CDC will issue a set of five documents next week on school reopenings, after President Trump criticized the agency's existing guidelines — which include keeping kids six feet apart at all times, if possible — as "very tough & expensive."

Between the lines: How and when schools return will be a decision left to state and local authorities. Pence said the administration will be "looking for ways to give states a strong incentive" as part of negotiations with Congress over a Phase 4 relief package.

  • New York City's 1,800 public schools will adopt a hybrid model that will limit in-person attendance to just one to three days a week, Mayor de Blasio announced today.
  • Others are likely to follow in the footsteps of the nation's largest public school system with an indefinite mix of in-person and remote learning.
  • But unlike New York, which has largely flattened its curve after getting hammered by the virus this spring, states across the South are still seeing a massive surge in infections that could turn schools into a petri dish.

The bottom line: Trump griped on Twitter today that Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden are reopening their schools.

  • The U.S. yesterday reported over 50,000 more coronavirus cases than those four countries combined.

Go deeper

Oct 16, 2020 - Health

U.S. reports over 63,000 daily COVID-19 cases

A health worker handling a coronavirus test sample Oct. 15 in Roxbury, Mass. Photo: Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald

The U.S. reported 63,172 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the nation's highest daily count since July 31 when it saw more than 66,000 new cases in a single day, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project.

Why it matters: Over 37,000 people are currently being hospitalized due to the virus in the U.S., while the country reported 951 new deaths from the virus. COVID-19 infections jumped by almost 17% over the past week as the number of new cases increased in 38 states and Washington, D.C.

Go deeper: The United States' stubbornly high coronavirus death rate

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
Oct 16, 2020 - Health

How colleges have learned to combat the coronavirus

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Some colleges are creating a blueprint for how to safely remain open during the coronavirus pandemic, relying heavily on regular testing and doing what they can to curb parties and other large gatherings.

Why it matters: College reopenings were tied to several big outbreaks, and young adults will likely be among the last to receive a coronavirus vaccine. So colleges and students need figure out how to live amid the virus.

Trump baselessly accuses Fauci of being a "Democrat"

President Trump again criticized Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, during a campaign rally in North Carolina on Thursday, claiming without evidence that the NIAID director is "a Democrat," and accusing him of downplaying the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Since the onset of the pandemic, Trump has repeatedly undermined Fauci, who has five decades of public service, describes himself as apolitical and is not registered with either party. In public statements and tweets, Trump has accused Fauci of blundering the government's response to the virus.

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