Amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, the United States has had to grapple with the issue of whether or not schools can safely be reopened. Although data has suggested that many children may suffer less severe illness if they’re infected with the virus, there’s still the possibility that children may spread the virus to those who would be more susceptible to serious illnesses. During an appearance on the Today show this Friday, Dr. Deborah Birx — who serves on the White House’s Coronavirus task force — blatantly contradicted President Donald Trump’s own earlier assertion that “they do say that [children] don’t transmit” the virus “very easily.”
Host Savannah Guthrie posed the question to Birx:
‘The president has said children don’t get the virus as much, and if they do they get better quick, I think you said in an interview a couple days ago there’s an open question and you’re studying it. If it’s not known, how are schools supposed to safely reopen..?’
‘we know that children under 18 are less sick, but there are some that suffer terrible consequences if they have underlying conditions. What I can’t tell you for sure, despite the South Korea study, is whether children under 10 in the United States don’t spread the virus as the same as children over 10. I think that is still an open question that needs to be studied in the United States. We certainly know from other studies that children under 10 do get infected, it’s just unclear how rapidly they spread the virus.’
Watch her interview below:
That’s a stark contrast to a statement that Trump made at a White House press conference this week. On Wednesday, he claimed:
‘They do say that [children] don’t transmit very easily, a lot of people are saying they don’t transmit and we are studying very hard that particular subject: that they don’t bring it home with them. They don’t catch it easily, they don’t bring it home easily, and if they do catch it, they get better fast.’
It’s laughably ridiculous for Trump to suggest that he’s any part of studying anything “very hard.” After all, he’s recently been parading the fact that he “passed” a test that’s seemingly meant to screen for early signs of cognitive decline.
Meanwhile, anyone who has any knowledge of school is likely well aware of the fact that social distancing is difficult if not entirely impossible in many circumstances. If one person at a school catches the virus, then the virus may rapidly spread across the campus. Although the South Korea study that Birx mentions did conclude that children under 10 seemed about half as likely as people in other age groups to spread the virus, the researchers pointed out that “children may show higher attack rates when the school closure ends, contributing to community transmission of Covid-19.”
Birx, meanwhile, has sometimes faced criticism for showing high levels of deference to Trump amidst the pandemic. She has, for instance, sometimes talked up his response to the crisis, although by any reasonable measure, the Trump administration’s Coronavirus response has been an abject failure — only once the U.S. had hit the point of about 140,000 Coronavirus-connected deaths did the president even publicly promote wearing face masks, which help reduce the spread of the virus.