The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

President-elect Biden to push for the majority of schools to reopen by May

He said he will ask Congress for money to protect staff and students from the coronavirus.

President-elect Joe Biden said Tuesday that he would prioritize getting coronavirus vaccines for educators after health-care workers and nursing home residents have had them. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Joe Biden pledged Tuesday to bring the coronavirus pandemic under enough control to open the “majority” of schools during his first 100 days as president, even while warning that the U.S. is facing a “dark winter.”

The president-elect said that promise is dependent on Congress providing enough funding to protect students, teachers and campus staff from the virus.He made it during an event in Delaware to introduce a team of health experts set to help the new administration combat a virus that has already killed more than 285,000 Americans.

Biden, who will take office January 20, said he plans to distribute at least 100 million vaccines during his first 100 days in the White House and will seek to reopen most of the nation’s schools over the same period.

“It should be a national priority to get our kids back into school and keep them in school,” Biden said. “If Congress provides the funding, we need to protect students, educators and staff. If states and cities put strong public health measures in place that we all follow, then my team will work to see that the majority of our schools can be open by the end of my first 100 days.”

Biden provided few details on how he would achieve that goal except to say that officials will prioritize getting vaccines to educators “as soon as possible” after health-care workers and nursing home residents get them. While still a candidate, Biden released a plan in July for resuming in-person classroom instruction during the pandemic that promised to send Congress an emergency funding package to help schools reopen with a price tag worth up to $30 billion.

That plan said final decisions on reopening schools would fall to state and local officials but nonetheless promised to have federal agencies establish “basic, objective criteria” for doing so. Those included districts getting necessary funding to reconfigure classrooms for better social distancing, having protective equipment and coming up with plans to accommodate at-risk teachers and students.

His schools pledge was an optimistic note in what was otherwise a speech that included a lot of dire warnings. Biden said that, after nearly nine months of living with the pandemic, Americans are “at risk of becoming numb to its toll on us” and resigned to accepting “the death, the pain and the sorrow.”

“We’re in a very dark winter. Things may well get worse before they get better,” Biden said. “A vaccine may soon be available. We need to level with one another. It will take longer than we would like to distribute it to all corners of the country.”

— Associated Press

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