Kayleigh McEnany argues science favours reopening schools in the US
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany has been roasted over an awkwardly worded quote in which she said science “should not stand in the way” of the United States reopening its schools.
Ms McEnany’s boss, US President Donald Trump, has been pushing hard for schools to reopen, despite the accelerating spread of the coronavirus throughout the country.
The US has recorded more than 70,000 new infections on multiple days this week. The state of Florida alone is identifying more cases each day than some countries have recorded during the entire pandemic.
RELATED: Staggering surge of virus infections in Florida
Nevertheless, last week Mr Trump pressured the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to relax its recommendations for how schools can safely reopen, calling the agency’s guidelines too “tough and expensive”.
The CDC advice said schools should maintain proper social distancing, clean their facilities, avoid sharing objects between students and stop serving communal meals in their cafeterias.
Mr Trump has threatened to cut off funding for schools that stay closed, though he doesn’t actually have the power to follow through.
RELATED: Australian parents’ outrage over schools reopening
RELATED: Scott Morrison pleads with teachers to return to school
RELATED: Trump’s weird excuse for scale of US virus outbreak
The subject came up during today’s White House media briefing.
“The President has said unmistakably that he wants schools to open. And I was just in the Oval Office talking to him about that. And when he says open, he means open in full – kids being able to attend, each and every day, at their school,” Ms McEnany told reporters.
“The science should not stand in the way of this.”
She went on to quote Dr Scott Atlas, a physician who works for the Hoover Institution think tank. Dr Atlas has slammed Mr Trump’s political opponents for claiming that reopening schools will help the virus spread.
“I’m not sure how many times it has to be said, but the risk of children from this disease and the fatality is nearly zero,” Dr Atlas told Fox News on Monday.
“The risk to children of a significant illness (from coronavirus) is far less than from the seasonal flu. This is totally antithetical to the data.”
He labelled concerns about opening schools “hysteria”, and said people “all over the world” were “stunned that we are willing to just simply destroy our children on some bizarre notion that’s completely contrary to the science”.
Ms McEnany also highlighted a study from the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics, which found coronavirus is severe “far less” frequently in children than in adults, and concluded kids are at “far greater risk” from influenza.
The journal also recently published an article arguing the “profound consequences” of closing schools “cannot be overlooked”. Those consequences include “regressions in academic gains, heightened depression and anxiety symptoms, greater digital dependence and numerous unmet social needs”.
“The science is very clear on this,” Ms McEnany said.
“The science is on our side here, and we encourage localities and states to just simply follow the science, open our schools.
“It’s very damaging to our children. There is a lack of reporting on abuse, there are mental depressions that are not addressed when students are not in school. Our schools are extremely important, they’re essential, and they must reopen.”
In context, it’s clear that Ms McEnany was arguing the science supports Mr Trump’s push to reopen schools. But her quote that the science “should not stand in the way” seemed to suggest the opposite.
Naturally, that is the quote everyone on the internet has pounced on.
Former White House physician Ronny Jackson, who is now a Republican political candidate, backed up Ms McEnany during an interview with Fox News Radio.
“If they’re going home and they’ve got elderly parents or grandparents, we’ve got to make considerations for that, they’ve got to be careful,” Dr Jackson conceded.
“But we shouldn’t be worried about the kids when they go to school. They are not the concern here.”
Ms McEnany herself called the reaction to her comments “a case study in media bias”.
She found an unlikely defender in the form of CNN anchor Jake Tapper, a frequent critic of the Trump administration.
“I think she was trying to say the science shouldn’t stand in the way because the science is on our side,” Tapper told his viewers.
“I don’t know that all of the science is on their side. Certainly, this White House, their respect for science knows bounds, let’s put it that way. But I think that’s what she was getting at.”
He urged people to read the Press Secretary’s “entire comment”.
“She’s arguing that the science is on the side of those who want to open them. She cites the JAMA study. I’m not taking a position on the matter, but be fair.”