The Trump administration on Sunday again pressed for full school reopenings in the fall, even as resurgent COVID-19 infections and a record spike in cases in Florida raised mounting questions about the risk of a premature return to classes.

With the virus setting new records by the day in many parts of the country, a top health official warned that “everything should be on the table” and even US President Donald Trump wore a mask in public for the first time.

In two television interviews Sunday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos insisted on the need for schools to reopen, even as several states were registering record numbers of coronavirus cases and hospitals in many cities were struggling to cope.

“Kids need to get back to school, they need to get back in the classroom,” DeVos said on CNN, while acknowledging that local conditions should be taken into account. “Families need for kids to get back in the classroom. And it can be done safely.”

Yet, another administration spokesman cautioned on Sunday that some areas might need to return to lockdowns.

Admiral Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary of health, said that with COVID-19 deaths continuing to rise, “everything should be on the table.”

“We’re all very concerned,” Giroir added on ABC’s “This Week,” as he called for the re-closing of bars, greater spacing in restaurants and the near-universal wearing of masks in the areas most afflicted, largely in southern states that reopened aggressively.

Pressure from Trump

The pressure to reopen schools has come from the top, with Trump threatening to withhold federal funding from schools that refuse to reopen – a stance that DeVos reconfirmed.

Trump has criticised guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control for the safe reopening of schools, saying they were too rigid and too expensive.

But many school systems say the safety of millions of students, teachers and staff can be ensured only with some combination of remote and in-person schooling – or in some cases remote-only teaching – and that a fully in-person approach, to be safe, would impose extreme costs.

DeVos was pressed as to whether the government would actually withhold federal funds from schools, which generally account for around 10 percent of local school budgets ; a substantial contribution at a time when reopening costs for larger school systems can run to the millions.

“There is no desire to take money away,” she said on CNN. “In fact, we want to see schools open and have been committed to ensuring the resources are there to do that.”

(AFP)