July 14, 2020 / 2:54 PM / a month ago

Trump calls COVID school closures a 'terrible decision' as cases and deaths rise

(Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Tuesday lambasted California’s two largest school districts for making students learn from home for the upcoming term in the face of the resurgent coronavirus pandemic.

Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) arrive with a patient while a funeral car begins to depart at North Shore Medical Center where the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients are treated, in Miami, Florida, U.S. July 14, 2020. REUTERS/Maria Alejandra Cardona

The Republican president, in an interview with CBS News, said it was a mistake for the Los Angeles and San Diego school districts to provide only on-line education for the academic year beginning in August.

“I would tell parents and teachers that you should find yourself a new person, whoever’s in charge of that decision, because it’s a terrible decision,” Trump said.

“Because children and parents are dying from that trauma too. They’re dying because they can’t do what they’re doing. Mothers can’t go to work because all of a sudden they have to stay home and watch their child, and fathers,” he said.

Trump, who has been reluctant to embrace mandatory face masks ordered by many U.S. governors to control the spread of COVID-19, also told CBS Americans should wear them “if necessary.”

Against the backdrop of rising cases and deaths, U.S. school districts have been confronted with a difficult choice of resuming classes or using only online teaching, which many parents have called ineffective and burdensome.

School districts refusing to send children back to class in the fall, like those in California, are at odds with Trump, who has said he may withhold federal funds or remove tax-exempt status from schools that don’t open.

It is not clear how funds could be withheld. Most primary and secondary school funding is local.

The nation’s 98,000 public schools are a cornerstone of the economy, providing childcare for working parents, employing 8 million workers prior to the pandemic, and preparing some 50 million students to join the U.S. workforce.

FLORIDA, NEW YORK ALLOW RETURN TO SCHOOL

Both Florida and New York state have said students will be allowed to return to school. New York is one of a handful of states where cases continue to fall and positive test rates are low - although it has seen by far the greatest number of deaths overall, at more than 32,000.

North Carolina’s governor on Tuesday ordered schools to reopen if safety measures can be met, but said districts can opt for online learning only.

The president’s comments came as Alabama, Florida and North Carolina on Tuesday reported record daily increases in deaths from COVID-19, marking grim new milestones of a second wave of infections surging across much of the United States.

Florida, which has become an epicenter of the new outbreak, reported 133 new COVID-19 fatalities on Tuesday, raising its death toll to more than 4,500.

“We must all continue to do our part to protect Florida’s most vulnerable and avoid the 3 Cs: closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings,” Governor Ron DeSantis wrote on Twitter. “Safeguarding the elderly and those with underlying health conditions will continue to be our top priority.”

Mandi Hawke, who runs a small children’s book company from her home in Broward County near Fort Lauderdale, said she recently made her first trip to the local mall in months and was “horrified” by what she saw.

“As bad as things are in south Florida, I feel they’re only going to get worse. We are not getting a grip on this,” said Hawke, 38.

Alabama reported a record spike of 40 deaths on Tuesday and North Carolina an increase of 35, bringing each state’s total to over 1,100.

Texas and California both reported record one-day increases in new cases. California said it had established a new mark for the current number of hospitalized patients suffering from COVID-19 at 2,103.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday visited Louisiana, which reported nearly 13,000 new cases last week.

Slideshow (6 Images)

The state’s attorney general, Jeff Landry, canceled a meeting with Pence after testing positive for the coronavirus. Landry said he had no symptoms and was taking medication prescribed by his doctor.

(GRAPHIC: Where coronavirus cases are rising in the United States - here)

(GRAPHIC: Tracking the novel coronavirus in the U.S. - here)

Reporting by Maria Caspani and Gabriella Borter in New York, David Lawder and Makini Brice in Washington, D.C., Rich McKay in Atlanta, and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Lisa Shumaker and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Leslie Adler

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