President Joe Biden said in an interview that aired on Sunday that long-term school closures and women leaving the workforce during the coronavirus pandemic are “a national emergency.”
While speaking with “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell at the White House, Biden also voiced concern about the mental health crisis that has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
O’Donnell noted that roughly 20 million schoolchildren have been out of the classroom since for almost a year, and a recent CBS News report showed that nearly 3 million women have dropped out of the labor force since last year.
“It is a national emergency,” Biden said of all three issues. “It genuinely is a national emergency.”
When asked if schools should reopen, Biden stressed that they should reopen cautiously.
“I think it’s time for schools to reopen safely,” he said. “Safely. You have to have fewer people in the classroom. You have to have ventilation systems that have been reworked.”
“Our CDC commissioner [Rochelle Walensky] is going to be coming out with science-based judgment, within I think as early as Wednesday as to lay out what the minimum requirements are,” the president added.
“I think it’s time for schools to reopen safely,” Pres. Biden tells @NorahODonnell.
In addition to smaller class sizes and reworked ventilation, Pres. Biden says CDC Director Rochelle Walensky is going to lay out the minimum requirements for reopening as early as Wednesday. pic.twitter.com/62VDKoNuNH
— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) February 7, 2021
Last month, Biden signed an executive order for the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services to devise guidelines to reopen schools safely within his first 100 days in office.
Biden said that he and his staff have had to get a handle on the work left by former President Donald Trump’s administration when it came to the rollout of vaccines.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious-disease expert, said, in order to reach herd immunity, about 75% of Americans will need to be vaccinated.
O’Donnell said CBS News calculated that it would take until the end of 2021 to reach that level at the current vaccination rate of 1.3 million doses a day.
“We can’t wait that long,” Biden said. “One of the disappointments was when we came into office is the circumstance relating to how the administration was handling COVID was even more dire than we thought. We thought that indicated there was a lot more vaccine available, and that didn’t turn out to be the case. That’s why we’ve ramped up everywhere we can.”
He added: “But the idea that this can be done and we can get to herd immunity much before the end of this summer is very difficult.”
Since the pandemic began in the US, nearly 27 million people have been infected and over 463,000 people have died, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.