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Edelman: Don’t let Trump play politics with our children’s health | COMMENTARY

An old expression, attributed to a supposed Chinese curse goes, “May you live in interesting times.” By great coincidence, a virus, also alleged to have come from China, has made this summer way too interesting, even for a presidential election year.

It’s been less than two months since pressure to “reopen the economy” led some very foolish or uncaring politicians to demand, or in some cases order, premature removal of the constraints of social isolation. They claimed that the COVID-19 pandemic was under control and people could forget about social distancing and wearing face masks in public. Sure enough, a large number of mostly Southern and Sun Belt states relaxed restrictions. Bars, gyms, nail salons — you know, really essential places — opened their doors. Beaches were made accessible, and when Memorial Day came, so did thousands of people who happily ignored all those inconvenient safety measures.

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You know what came next — a huge outburst of COVID-19 infections. On Memorial Day, around 23,000 new cases were reported nationwide. One month later, the rate had almost doubled to close to 44,000, and now just two weeks past that plateau, the daily infection rate is around 70,000 and rising.

Testing for the virus turned up a striking trend: Infections among younger people are going up at a greater rate than any other group. Even though juveniles and young adults are less likely to be severely affected or be killed by the virus, they are just as capable of infecting others as any age group. And that fact has significant impact on school reopenings.

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We all want our kids to return to school as soon as it’s safe for them to do so. We want to know that if a child carrying the coronavirus showed up in class, the school would take all necessary steps to assure risks to other children and staff are made as small as possible. We want schools to do everything they can to minimize the chance of exposure. And we want our kids to be in a learning environment.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Community Interventions and Critical Populations Task Force prepared extensive guidelines for K-12 schools and higher education institutes to follow. The American Academy of Pediatrics, along with the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, issued a joint statement in support of the guidelines. They said, “Science should drive decision-making on reopening schools.”

Those guidelines are primarily intended for public health teams working in hot spots where virus outbreaks are most extreme — Arizona, Texas, Florida and the Carolinas, among others — but they’re written for adaptation across the country. After months of uncertain federal direction, educators praised the CDC’s guidelines, saying they “could serve as a blueprint for schools and families to navigate the uncertainty” surrounding the spread of the virus. Each state controls education policies within its borders and has latitude to fit all or some of the guidelines to their school opening plans; Maryland’s come close to matching them completely.

However, Vice President Mike Pence announced those guidelines wouldn’t come out because the administration didn’t want them to be “too tough.” President Donald Trump called the CDC guidelines “expensive” and “impractical.” He made it clear he wants public schools to open early, consequences be damned. He threatened to withhold federal funds to those school districts that failed to do so, even though he has no power to do so. He threatened to deport foreign college students if their campuses held classes online.

Once more, the president has put his personal political interests ahead of the welfare of the people. He justified his uninformed, dangerous stance in a tweet, saying, “Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election.”

The president and a number of his supporters, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Maryland U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, pushed to lift restrictions too soon, and now the nation is suffering because of it. They were willing to risk the lives of our seniors for their political agenda. Now they are playing politics with our children’s health. We cannot afford to let them.

Mitch Edelman, vice chairperson of the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee, writes from Finksburg. His column appears every other Tuesday. Email him at mjemath@gmail.com.

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