University of South Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina
1:37 P.M. EDT
GOVERNOR MCMASTER: I’d like to welcome everyone here to the University of South Carolina. This is where we’ve had many of our meetings concerning the pandemic. And we’ve gotten a lot of great ideas in this place, and we got some more today. We appreciate very much the effort of the Vice President, Secretary, the Administrator, and coming here and being with us, as well as Superintendent.
And we look forward very much to your questions.
Mr. Vice President.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Great. Well, thank you, Governor McMaster. I want to thank you and First Lady Peggy for the hospitality today. Karen and I are honored to be here with you, grateful for your strong and steadfast leadership throughout this pandemic. And as we see cases rising across South Carolina, on behalf of the President and our entire White House Coronavirus Task Force, Governor McMaster, I want to thank you for the seamless partnership that we have forged on behalf of the health and wellbeing of the people of South Carolina.
But with rising cases here in the state, the President wanted me to be here today with a very simple message for the people of South Carolina, and that is: We are with you. And we’re going to work closely with your governor and with all your state health officials to make sure that the people of this state have the testing, the personal protective equipment, and the therapeutics, and the supplies to meet this moment.
And, Governor, I — again, I want to — I want to thank you for organizing the discussions that we had today. I mean, having the opportunity to meet with your health team, to hear your perspective on what’s happening on the ground in South Carolina, and the great efforts that healthcare workers are making all across this state and the great cooperation of the people of South Carolina, I know that we’ll get through this and we’ll get through this together.
President Trump will be briefing the nation later today on our administration’s efforts, working with states, particularly across the Sun Belt, with the — in midst of rising cases. But let me just say a few words about our response.
As, Governor, you know with — the rise in cases across the Sun Belt is serious, but the people of South Carolina should know that we are in a much better place to respond to this pandemic across the south than we were two and three months ago.
But because of the partnership we’ve forged with your governor, with governors around the country; because of the whole-of-America response that President Trump initiated that has taken testing to nearly 50 million tests having been performed across the country; the development of hundreds of millions of personal protective equipment; over 100,000 ventilators being constructed in 100 days; and the rapid development of therapeutics, whether it be remdesivir or convalescent plasma, or others that are under active consideration at the FDA — that, combined with the Operation Warp Speed’s development of vaccines, we are leaning into this effort and we are — we are in a much better place to make sure that your governor and your healthcare providers in this state have the support and resources, but to provide any member of your family with the level of healthcare that we would want for a member of our family.
We’re proud of what South Carolina has accomplished. Governor, I think, in March, you were performing roughly 540 tests per day; now nearly 10,000 tests a day. And — and I also want to commend you, Governor, for the efforts you’ve made protecting the most vulnerable.
From very early on, we’ve recognized that seniors with serious underlying health conditions represent those most vulnerable to the coronavirus. And to that end, Seema Verma, in a few moments, will detail a plan that we unveiled last week building on our efforts to focus resources and measures and standards on nursing homes. We announced last week that the federal government will be distributing point-of-care tests — 15-minute tests — to all 15,400 nursing homes in America, beginning at the end of this week. And Seema Verma, with the Center for Medicaid and Medicaid Services, will describe that.
With regard to supplies: I’m informed, Governor, that as of July 9th, FEMA and HHS have delivered to South Carolina
nearly a half a million surgical masks, not including nearly 400,000 N95 respirators, tens of thousands of face shields and coveralls. And we’ve also made certain that you will continue to have the ventilators here in South Carolina that are — that are needed for people facing the most serious consequences.
Seema Verma will also talk for a moment about healthcare capacity. We are monitoring healthcare capacity across the Sun Belt. And while there are instances where some hospitals in states that are being impacted by rising cases, there are instances where individual hospitals are beginning to reach capacity.
The report that we received today here in South Carolina and all across the Sun Belt is that overall hospital capacity remains strong, hospital beds are available. But we launched a new website this week to make sure that hospitals are giving us real-time information so that we can continue to work with states to make sure that that remains the case and that hospitals have the supply that they need.
But beyond all of that — and we’re focused on saving lives, protecting our most vulnerable, but as we discussed today, we’re also focused on reopening America: opening up America again and opening up America’s schools. And, Governor, I want to — I want to commend you for your steady efforts to put the people of South Carolina back to work. I’m informed that more than 105,000 South Carolinians have joined or rejoined the workforce in the month of June, and your unemployment rate in this state has dropped from over 12 percent to just under 9 percent.
I think the American people and people across this state realize that when it comes to a choice between dealing with the pandemic or opening up America, it’s not an either/or; we can do both. We all have a role to play. All of us need to do our part to practice personal hygiene, wash our hands, wear a mask wherever state or local authorities determine it’s indicated or where the social distancing is not possible.
But, Governor, you’re proving here in South Carolina that you can put this economy back to work. And you’ve already unveiled a plan to reopen schools across South Carolina, and that was much of what our discussion was today.
And on behalf of the President and our entire task force, I want to thank you. I want to thank you for leading the way on getting our kids back in the classroom. We heard today from education leaders from across this state, and I was — I was deeply inspired by the words that I heard.
In just a few moments, I’ll yield the podium to the Superintendent of Anderson School District Five. Superintendent Tom Wilson today reflected very memorably on the academic impact on children, especially children who are struggling learning how to read. The reality is that the — that without getting our kids back into school this fall, children that are struggling academically, children that are struggling with learning how to read will fall farther and farther behind with long-term consequences on their academic future and needs.
Also, I was deeply moved today to hear from Janie Neeley, the mother of a special needs 4-year-old by the name of Marsh. Marsh has Down’s syndrome. And Janie spoke very eloquently about — about the fact that Marsh misses his friends. He misses his teachers. He misses the counseling that he receives as special needs students do uniquely in schools around this country.
And so, Governor McMaster, we commend you for your efforts to get our kids back into school. And we commend President Caslen’s efforts to reopen the University of South Carolina. We understand we don’t want our kids to fall behind academically, as Superintendent Wilson reflected, but also, it’s so important to recognize — whether it’s special needs, whether it’s nutrition needs, whether it’s counseling for emotional needs — millions and millions of children across this country rely on services that are only available at their schools.
And so for the sake of their academic wellbeing, for the sake of their personal wellbeing, Governor, you recognized today, as your team did, that it’s vitally important that we reopen our schools.
It’s also: To reopen the American economy, we got to reopen our schools. It’s — the reality is that for working parents, working moms and dads, there is a great hardship in children not returning to school. I heard a statistic on the way here that that less than 25 percent of single parents are able to telework, which puts a great, great burden on their ability to both be a parent and also provide for their family.
In hearing all that good counsel today, I just reiterated to the governor that we’re going to continue to provide the resources and the guidance so that states like South Carolina can safely reopen schools, as you reopen your economy and deal with rising cases across this state.
I’m pleased to report, with a grateful nod to your congressional delegation, especially Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Tim Scott, that we’ve already secured more than $30 billion in funding for states: $13 billion for elementary and secondary education, and more than $14 for higher education. And I know, Governor, you just made an announcement about the distribution of those resources to school systems and universities here in South Carolina.
I’ll also pledge to you that our team is on Capitol Hill today negotiating and discussing a phase four of our recovery and relief legislation. And the President made it clear to our negotiators yesterday that we want education funding to be a centerpiece of any additional recovery efforts by the Congress of the United States. And so more help is on the way, Governor, and we’re going to continue to support your efforts and efforts across this country to get our kids back to school.
And finally, we’ll continue to give additional guidance. From early March, the Centers for Disease Control has issued consistent guidance for schools, providing additional tools for operating schools safely.
And in the days ahead, the CDC will be issuing additional decision-making tools for parents and guardians, preparing K-12 school administrators for a safe return in the fall, and limitations and considerations on symptom screening and the like. That guidance will be forthcoming in the days ahead, and we look forward to providing that to you, as well as to all the great education leaders all across this state.
Finally, let me just say to the people of South Carolina what I said in the beginning — is that on behalf of the President of the United States and our entire White House Coronavirus Task Force: We’re with you, and we’re going to stay with you every step of the way until we put this coronavirus in the past. We’re going to continue to partner — partner with the — with your governor and with all your health officials and your hospitals to make sure our healthcare workers have the support and the supplies that they need to render healthcare to anyone impacted by the coronavirus. And we’re going to continue to work — continue to work in ways that can open up the state’s economy again and get our kids back into school.
But we all do have a role to play. We can slow the spread. We can flatten the curve. We can save lives. What we saw when this pandemic first struck our country was that with the full cooperation of the American people, with the full support of our healthcare workers, we can accomplish those things. We did it in the Greater New York City area; we did it in New Orleans and Michigan, and other places. We have every confidence that with the full cooperation the American people, the dedication of our healthcare workers, with the strong leadership of administrations like yours, Governor McMaster, that we will do it again in the Sun Belt.
But I do want to encourage each one of your citizens, as I said before, to heed local guidance when it comes to wearing a mask or where — or just wear a mask when social distancing is not possible. Wash your hands. Practice — practice personal hygiene. Each one of us has a role to play, and we’ll get through this, I know, by putting the health of our neighbors first, looking after the future of our economy, looking after the future of our kids, getting our schools back open again. And we’ll get through this, and we’ll get through this together.
With that, I’m going to recognize the Secretary of Education for a report, and the Director of the — of the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services.
But before that, I ask the Superintendent, Tom Wilson, of Anderson School District 5 to share a few of his thoughts on just how important it is that schools in South Carolina reopen, and maybe to reflect for a few moments on the plan that they’ve announced to get kids back in the classroom in school district 5 starting on September the eighth.
SUPERINTENDENT WILSON: Thank you, Mr. Vice President and Governor McMaster. I shared with the panel a few moments ago our plans to reopen schools in Anderson School District 5. We will open September the 8th. We will give parents a choice of face-to-face or a virtual academy that’s being developed, where they can — we’ve been surveying our parents. We believe we’ll have about 20 percent of our parents choose to do that, but it is a choice of the parents. At the semester break in January, they’ll have the possibility come back to face-to-face, if they so desire, and hopefully the spread will be somewhat flattened at that point.
I think what resonated with the group a few moments ago was what I want to share with you: As of March the 16th, all the schools in this state were closed. And Anderson School District 5, we were way ahead of everybody because we had developed it. We were the first school district in the state to have e-learning. We piloted e-learning. And other districts followed us, and we mentored other districts.
And we invested millions and millions of dollars in technology, Chromebooks — from kindergarten to 12th grade — digital integration specialists, fix-it people to keep things up and running.
E-learning — and you might hear the word “remote learning,” “e-learning,” different terms — it was never intended for 25 percent of the school year for kids to be out of school. It was intended, in this state, for three or four days, when we had to call school off for snow. But we were the best of a bad lot because we were the best at e-learning, and, still, it was very successful for a lot of students, but it was not successful for a lot of students, primarily the poor, the low income, single parents.
And the difficulty we had is when mom or dad has to be at Electrolux making refrigerators at 7:00 a.m. — they cannot telework. Teleworking is really, quite honestly, a professional opportunity for professional staff. They can’t. They have to work. They work with their hands. They build things.
And as a result, we had a lot of kids who had very little support. Our research tells us that if a child has a ineffective teacher for two years in a row, the chances of them graduating from high school is basically slim to none. If they have no teacher for two years in a row, I assure you they will not graduate. And what keeps me up at night are those kids that left us on March the 16th that were kindergarteners, first graders, second graders, third graders, fourth, and maybe even fifth graders, that were struggling readers.
And I dare say there may be a few people in this room that could teach somebody how to read. I can’t. I’ve been doing — I’ve been in public schools for 44 years; been a principal teacher, superintendent. I ca- — I don’t know how to teach your child to read. That’s not my — I wasn’t trained. Teaching reading is a science and it’s also an art, and it has to be done at the shoulder of a child, for most children.
And so what I worry about are those struggling readers. If we don’t get them back face to face with a teacher, six, seven years from now, eight years from now, we’re going to see a dropout rate like we’ve never seen, because kids drop out of school because they find it irrelevant and boring. And when they get on up in where they can drop out, then they’ll quit and they won’t graduate. And all of us in this room and all of us in this state and all of us in this country are going to pay the burden and pay the price for that, because what will happen: We’ll continue to put more people on the train and less people pulling it. And those of us that are pulling, and everybody in this room, it will cost us more because they will never be able to get it.
Those of you who have little children: We can teach a 5-year-old Spanish like that, but try to teach it to a 40-year- old or a 25-year-old; it’s very difficult.
So, reading is essential. That’s crucial. I worry about the elementary a lot more than a high school. I told our teachers, our principals: The tip of the spear is our elementary teachers because that’s where — that — that’s where the battle will be won. And we look forward to doing that.
I commend the Governor for his support of opening schools, and we’re going to do it. And we look forward to getting back. We look forward to working with our virtual academy. And it’s been an honor to be with you today, Governor, Vice President. And thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Great words, Tom. Thank you.
SECRETARY DEVOS: Thank you so much, Mr. Vice President. It’s really a privilege to be here with you in South Carolina today. Governor McMaster, thank you so much for hosting us and for your leadership here in the Palmetto State. And, Superintendent Wilson, thank you for so clearly articulating how imperative it is that kids be able to get back to school this fall.
I really resonated also, in the previous session, with what Dr. Caslen said. And he said, “As South Carolina’s flagship university, I believe that we bear the responsibility to open our doors to students, most of whom are eager to resume their education in person and on campus.” We must get schools back open, and we know we can do it safely. The science on this is clear, and it’s only growing stronger. It’s critical to students’ health and wellbeing. It isn’t a question of health versus safety; it’s a question of health versus health. Students need access to the services they receive at school. They need to be with their teachers and their friends and they need to be learning and growing. Thanks to the President’s leadership, we’ve made sure the needed resources are there to make it happen safely.
South Carolina’s K-12 schools have already received $126 million under the CARES Act. But we know — also know that for too many students, especially the most disadvantaged, they might — may not have the right option for them and their families right now, or their assigned school may just be refusing to open.
And I think of what mom Janie Neeley said in the previous session about the need for her son, Marsh, to have that in-person experience with teachers and with students. And I think also about Principal Akis [sic] Ross — Akil Ross, who talked about the imperative to be focusing on what students need and doing the right thing for students.
I want to applaud again Governor McMaster for the leadership he’s shown in supporting all students. These Safe Access to Flexible Education, or SAFE, grants he announced yesterday will ensure that a student’s personal and family circumstances don’t limit them from accessing the best education possible. This is a model, frankly, that the nation should follow. It’s the President’s vision for every American student and why he’s fighting to pass school choice now.
We know that Congress is looking at how to best provide more relief, and this administration is going to fight for every student to go back to school safely and at a school that will best meet their unique needs.
When the assigned schools fail to rise to the challenge, we believe students and parents deserve a choice to go somewhere else, and the tax dollars meant to support their students’ education should go with them, not to a system.
So with that, again, Mr. Vice President, thank you for your leadership, and I look forward to continuing to work to ensure all students can get back to their learning safely and promptly.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good. Thanks.
ADMINISTRATOR VERMA: Thank you. And thank you, Governor, for hosting us today. It’s a pleasure to be here, and appreciate all of your strong efforts on opening schools.
You know, one of the things with the Medicaid program that I run is that we provide a lot of healthcare services inside the schools. Kids get vision services, they get screenings, immunizations. And so it’s not only part of their learning; these healthcare services are important to their health, but also for their ability to learn. So, really appreciate your efforts to open the schools.
When the pandemic started, the President and the Vice President were very clear on our mission: protecting the vulnerable and making sure that healthcare workers on the frontlines had what they needed to fight this battle.
And so let me start with nursing homes. That’s our — one of our most vulnerable populations. We know that nursing homes have been hit hard, but also, for the residents, it’s been an extraordinarily difficult time. They’ve been separated from their families, haven’t had a chance to visit, and then many times, they’re restricted inside the room. So it’s been a very difficult time, but we appreciate all of the strong leadership, especially at the state level.
We asked states at the very beginning to do inspections across the board of their nursing homes. Almost 97 percent of those have been completed in South Carolina. And the President has also wanted to make sure that nursing homes have the tools that they needed. FEMA has been sending supplies directly to nursing homes. We’ve also made grants available to nursing homes so that they can buy iPads and computers so that their residents can communicate with their loved ones.
And more recently, as we’re opening up, we want to make sure that nursing homes have the continued focused on testing. We’ve asked that they test their resident — at least do a one-time pass. And also, for their healthcare workers, that they do that testing on a weekly basis.
And we announced last week that we’re going to be providing point-of-care tests inside the nursing home to every nursing home across the country — that’s over 15,400 nursing homes — and that’s going to allow them to do rapid testing, get those results back in 15 minutes. They can identify staff that have been impacted and also make sure that residents that are — that are sick and those — and separate the ones that are sick from those that are not. And so that’s going to be a critical effort.
It also relieves the testing as some of the — it relieves the system, in terms of the testing capacity. If nursing homes can do that inside their nursing home, then that relieves the labs from being able to test more people. So that’s really critical as well.
And then, finally, it’s also that path forward for patients, residents to be united with their families, because that point-of-care testing could also enable visitors. So we’re very excited about that. We think this is going to be very important for our nursing homes.
And also, one of the other things that we’re doing with our nursing homes across the country is making sure that they have the support. We’ve engaged our quality improvement organizations to go inside nursing homes. So once inspectors have identified problems, we’re actually putting organizations on the ground to provide them the support, answer any questions, and make sure that they have a safe environment for residents.
The other piece that the Vice President mentioned today was the HHS Protect system. And we announced this week that we are putting up a system which allows our hospitals to directly report information to HHS. And they — the type of information that they’re reporting are their inpatient beds, their ICU capacity. That gives us the ability to make sure that they have the supplies that they need, whether it’s remdesivir, whether it’s N95 masks.
Us understanding what’s going on in the hospital, in terms of their capacity, the patients they’re seeing, is so critical. And we appreciate the hospitals across the country that have voluntarily provided that data to us. And it’s just so critical to making sure that those healthcare heroes that are on the frontlines have the supplies and the support that they need.
Thank you very much.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Great. Great.
Questions? Yes, please.
Q Mr. Vice President, you said a few moments ago, when you started, that there was — you think we’re at a better place than we were when this pandemic started. You’ve mentioned an increase in testing and how that’s put us in a better place.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q How do you reconcile that with the situation in South Carolina, which has literally seen an explosion of these cases, which even the Governor has said is not related to more testing but related to people’s behavior?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, let me be very clear: What’s happening in South Carolina with rising cases — and all across the Sun Belt — is serious. And it’s the reason why we’ve surged resources here. It’s the reason why we continue to work closely with the Governor to ensure that you have testing.
We’re — we’re working to expand testing every day. This weekend, the FDA issued a new — what’s called “emergency use authorization” to permit one commercial lab to engage in what’s called “pooling.” That would allow the testing of multiple samples at one time. This would greatly scale the availability of testing. We’re delivering therapeutics, like remdesivir, here in South Carolina.
But when I say that we’re in a better place, it’s a better place to respond. I think we — we understand who the most vulnerable are. It’s the reason why we continue to focus resources on protecting seniors with underlying health conditions and alerting Americans that anyone with an immunodeficiency, that they know would also be vulnerable to serious outcomes.
But it’s also — it’s also that we simply — because of the almost wartime-like increase in the production of testing — when I was tapped to lead the White House Coronavirus Task Force, we have done roughly 8,000 coronavirus tests in the entire country. That would — being done at CDC and at state labs. But now, as of this morning, we’re — we’re just a little north of 48 million tests having been performed. I know more than 600,000 have been performed here in South Carolina alone.
Combine that with hundreds of millions of personal protective equipment supplies, our capacity to monitor of the availability of beds and hospitals, and, of course, the development of therapeutics that literally have been not just shortening hospital stays, but we believe therapeutics, like remdesivir, have played a leading role in saving lives around the country of vulnerable patients.
All of that is what we mean when we say, “We’re in a better place.” But make no mistake about it: The spread of the coronavirus across the Sun Belt has been serious. We’re going to continue to focus great energy and attention on it and partner very closely with your governor until we reach that point in this state, with the cooperation of all the good people of South Carolina, where, by doing what each one of us should be doing — personal hygiene, wearing a mask — where we can slow the spread just as we did before in other parts of the country. We know how to flatten the curve and put ourselves in a position where — where we will continue to be, every day, closer to that day that hopefully, before the end of the year, we’ll have a vaccine and be able to put the coronavirus in the past.
Q Yeah, Mr. Vice President, did you want the President to bring back these daily White House briefings? And also, at today’s briefing, do you know if Dr. Fauci will attend?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: The President will be — will be speaking at a White House briefing today. And he indicated yesterday that we’ll be — we’ll be briefing on a regular basis.
But, as you know, the White House Coronavirus Task Force has been — has been briefing over the last several weeks. We briefed at the Department of Education, at Health and Human Services. And — but we also thought it was very important that we take task force members out around the country. Dr. Birx was in a half a dozen states last week. I was in Louisiana. I’ve traveled to Arizona, to Texas. I’ll be in Florida in just a few short days.
We think it’s important that our team is on the ground, that we’re working closely with governors and with health officials. But we’ll continue to brief — we’ll continue to brief the country going forward.
Q Do you know who —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, please.
Q — from the task force will be at today’s briefing with the President?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I’d — I’d leave that to the White House today. So —
Q Mr. Vice President, you have talked about an emphasis on personal responsibility, on following advice from health officials on wearing your mask, on social distancing. Same kind of thing we’ve heard from Governor McMaster repeatedly.
But respectfully, though, with those encouragements, we continue to see, particularly in the Sun Belt cases that you mention in here and coastal South Carolina, lots of people not following that advice and not social distancing and not paying attention to those recommendations. Given that that’s happening, and given that our case numbers are continuing to go up, is there a need for a next step if people really just aren’t going to follow that advice?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: A next step in what way?
Q In doing something different, other than just encouraging an adherence to social — to personal responsibility and following advice. If people aren’t doing it and case numbers still go up, then what?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I would — what I would say is that our approach from early on, not just when we stood FEMA up as the lead distributor of resources, but even before that, is that the President said we wanted to bring the full resources of the federal government but the full strength of the American economy to respond to this. But we understood that it would be federally supported and state managed.
And so what I want to say today is that we fully support the approach that Governor Henry McMaster has taken here in South Carolina. And we also fully support the efforts that neighboring governors have taken.
We really do believe that one of the reasons why we were able to slow the spread and flatten the curve earlier in this pandemic in other parts of the country is because we didn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. We recognize that it was important to follow the science and follow the data, not just on a state-by-state basis, but oftentimes on a county-by-county basis. And I know the Governor has taken steps here, and local communities have taken steps here.
And I have great confidence that as the American people did earlier in this pandemic in other states, that the people of South Carolina will heed the guidance of state and local authorities, that we’ll continue to put the health and wellbeing of our neighbors first.
But I would say — and I think it’s — it is worth saying, that we make a particular appeal to younger Americans, young people in South Carolina under the age of 30. And one of the unique aspects of this outbreak across the Sun Belt is that in state after state, we’ve seen that nearly half of those who have tested positive are under the age of 30 or 34. And we think that that may have been generated by gatherings in and around Memorial Day. It may have been generated around protests that occurred at roughly the same period of time. But sometime in the middle of June, we began to see a rise in cases here in South Carolina and across the Sun Belt, and particularly among younger people.
And so our message to everyone in South Carolina: It’s always a good idea to wear a mask, wash your hands, practice social distancing. But particularly for young people, none of whom would ever want to inadvertently expose someone to the coronavirus who is vulnerable for a serious health outcome, we need — we need young people in this state to do their part as well, to heed that guidance. And we have every confidence that they will do just that. We proved in other states that we know how to slow the spread, and I’m confident the people South Carolina will as well. But it’ll take all of us to do it.
Q Mr. Vice President, early on, the White House Coronavirus Task Force put together guidelines on reopening the states’ economy slowly. The President obviously called very, very early on, when case numbers, including in South Carolina, were so much lower, calling for America’s economy to reopen. States, including South Carolina, followed that advice and slowly went back on previous orders.
Now we’re seeing rises in cases beyond 1,000 and sometimes 2,000. We’ve also experienced more than 1,000 deaths. Did the Gov- — excuse me, did the President offer governors bad advice? And also, have you asked the President to more often wear masks so that other people who may have concerns about wearing masks or aren’t sure about wearing masks will wear more masks?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the President wore a mask recently in a visit with our soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital, and tweeted a picture last night wearing a mask and encouraged people to do their part and do likewise.
But let me say that when we went through 45 days to slow the spread, we really believed that that was essential that every American take these steps so that we would we would prevent our hospitals, particularly in the most impacted areas at the time, from being overwhelmed. And the American people did their part here in South Carolina and all over the country, and we flattened the curve; we slowed the spread.
But the President also thought it was important, once we reached the end of that 45-day period, that we give states our very best guidance on how to safely and responsibly reopen. But our lodestar in all of that was that that each state would be in a unique situation. And so we wanted to make sure that the supplies were there, the testing was there, the guidance was there.
But our default setting is always to respect governors who have the best real-time information and understand the people of their state better than the federal government ever will, and respect the decisions that are made by each of our governors.
And so we’ll continue to give our very best guidance, particularly when it comes to schools. The CDC will have additional recommendations out to assist — assist in the safe reopening of schools.
But we believe that the key to our national response today, despite — and we grieve the loss of life here in South Carolina. We grieve the loss of any American to this pandemic. But the fact that we — that we’ve been able, in earlier states, in earlier points of this pandemic, to slow the spread and flatten the curve, we know how to do it. It’s about focusing resources, allowing each state to develop their own countermeasures, and then us fully resourcing and supporting the states in doing that, and that’ll continue to be our approach.
Q Mr. Vice President, I recognize your children are older, but if they were younger, in school, would you send your own kids to school in the fall? And, sir, if I may, since you are the head of this task force, God forbid a child, a student, or a teacher gets sick and God forbid they die. But if this does happen, what would be the protocol moving forward as schools reopen? Thank you, sir.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, first, let me say, I’m your Vice President, but the most important title I’ll ever hold is D-A-D. And I’m a proud father of three kids, two are married. But I can tell you, with my wife seated right here, if our kids were elementary school age or high school or college, we wouldn’t hesitate to send to send them back to school, because I’ve been looking at this data every day, and I’d encourage any American, any parent in particular, to do the same.
And because children without a serious underlying condition have a very low risk of serious outcome to the coronavirus. Let me say again: Without a serious underlying health condition — a compromised immune system — the risk of the coronavirus to children, young people under the age of 18 or under the age of 25, is very low. And we see that not just in our national data, but we see it in data literally from around the world.
But it’s absolutely important to recognize that as we reopen our schools, as Anderson District 5 and Superintendent Wilson reflected, and as we heard Dr. Caslen, we want to safely reopen our schools by creating an environment that we can be confident about the safety for kids, but also for faculty. And as President Caslen said today, at University of South Carolina, they want to make sure, being an urban university, that they also do their part to ensure that there’s no spread of the virus within the broader community. So there’s larger implications.’
But to answer your question very specifically, I wouldn’t hesitate to send my kids back to school based on the fact that the risk to children is low, but also — and we heard it again today — there are real costs when our kids are not in the classroom. And it’s something Governor McMaster understands. It’s something that Superintendent Wilson understands.
And it’s something that we’re literally hearing all across the country. It’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics literally issued a statement several weeks ago that said, all — all deliberations about the next academic school year should begin with priority of restoring in-person learning. That’s 65,000 pediatricians across America that said it’s important, first and foremost, to get our kids back into school.
And I would say that’s not just because we don’t want them to fall behind academically, as Superintendent Wilson just talked compellingly about. If a student misses a year of learning how to read and or misses another year of learning how to read how far back that places children that are struggling with reading.
But remember, literally millions and millions of American children rely on a school lunch program, nutrition support. There are children with learning disabilities who receive the counseling and the assistance in their schools that’s going unattended. As we heard from Janie Neeley about her wonderful 4-year-old son, Marsh, there are children with special needs, like Down’s syndrome, that principally receive their services, their counseling, their education and support in school.
And so there are — there are real-world costs, including health costs for children by keeping schools closed. And that’s why, working with the Congress, we’re going to continue to generate more resources to support efforts like Governor McMaster has initiated here, in returning kids to the classroom in South Carolina on September the 8th.
I know President Trump will continue to urge governors all across the country to reopen our schools because we think it’s best for the kids academically, but we also think far beyond that, for their health, for their wellbeing, for their personal development, for their unique needs, we got to get our kids back to school. But I thank you for the question.
Q The second part of my question, sir — and I appreciate your detailed answer to the first part, sir. Thank you. Mr. Vice President, is it clear or is it currently still being discussed what will happen if and when a student gets sick and, again, if and when a student or a teacher is to pass from COVID-19? What are you and the task force discussing about what to happen then? Because I am hearing from parents and teachers, every day across the state: They care, they want to do the right thing, but they’re scared.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right.
Q What would you say to them, sir?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I would just say to each and every one of those parents that we’re supporting efforts at the state level and with local schools to do everything in our power to see that that never happens.
We think we can safely reopen schools. The risk to children is very low. We believe that responsible plans can be developed, like you’ve seen developed here at the local level and at the state level; that we’ll protect our students, protect faculty, protect the community, and protect the most vulnerable.
And so I just — my pledge to every parent is: We’re going to continue to work our hearts out to make sure that the guidance is there, the resources is there. But we really do believe that it’s possible to safely reopen our schools, and we think that’s in the interest of our kids, we think it’s in the interest of working families, and it’s in the interest of America.
So, thank you.
GOVERNOR MCMASTER: Mr. Vice President, on behalf of the people of South Carolina, I want to thank you for your leadership and presence — presence here, along with the Second Lady. We appreciate you being here. And our South Carolina First Lady, Peggy, thank you for joining us today. Please tell the President that we are 100 percent appreciative of his support and leadership and putting this fine team together with Administrator Verma and Secretary DeVos. We have enormous confidence in the administration, in you and him. And we look forward to working more with you. And thank you very much.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Governor. Thanks, everybody.
END 2:24 P.M. EDT