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How Trump's push to reopen schools could backfire

The Trump administration’s full-steam-ahead push to fully reopen schools this fall is on a collision course with the U.S.' skyrocketing coronavirus caseload and its decades-long neglect of public education.

Why it matters: Getting kids back to school is of paramount importance for children and families, especially low-income ones. But the administration isn’t doing much to make this safer or more feasible.


“They’re sort of asking schools to do the undoable — ‘just make it work, get all the kids back, and get them in five days a week, and keep their distance and do all the hygiene…but if you can’t do it, that’s not our fault, that’s up to the locals,’” said Anita Cicero, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

The big picture: How to handle schools and daycare centers amid the pandemic is one of the most vexing questions around the world.

  • Keeping kids at home risks learning setbacks and prevents them from getting much-needed services, like food or special needs assistance. It also removes some 40 hours of weekly child care that working parents rely on.
  • But there’s no scientific consensus yet on how much children contribute to the spread of the coronavirus. In a worst-case scenario, schools could become one of the most effective ways the virus travels from family to family.

One of the best ways to reduce the risk of reopening schools is to reduce the virus' spread — but in several states, caseloads are instead skyrocketing.

  • Florida — one of the new epicenters of the pandemic — announced earlier this week that it’s requiring all "brick and mortar schools" to open "at least five days per week for all students,” per CNN.
  • In contrast, New York City, where the case count is low, announced yesterday that children will only be able to physically attend schools between one and three times a week, and there will most likely be no more than a dozen people in a classroom at one time.

Driving the news: The Centers for Disease Control and Protection suggests that all school staff wear masks, and that students are kept six feet apart at all times. But teachers, schools and some politicians have deemed the guidelines unrealistic, and President Trump criticized them as “very tough & expensive.”

  • Both Vice President Pence and CDC director Robert Redfield said Wednesday the guidance is not meant to be a “rationale to keep schools closed.” The CDC will issue new guidance next week, Redfield said.

Yes, but: Implementing strong safety measures will require resources that many school districts don’t have, especially as the coronavirus economy depletes tax revenues.

  • The cost of stringent sanitation, personal protective equipment and new personnel would be astronomical.
  • “We want children to be back in schools,” said Will Hite, superintendent of Philadelphia’s school district. But the cost of additional cleaning and sanitizing alone could be an extra $60 million to $80 million.
  • Estimates show state budget shortfalls of about $555 billion over the next two calendar years, Wesley Tharpe, the deputy director of state policy research at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, tells Axios, meaning states don’t have any extra cash to throw at the problem.

The bottom line: There’s no dispute that schools are incredibly important to children. “But the idea of sending kids back to indoor public places with large numbers of [people]... when the outbreak is raging at the level it was in April in New York and New Jersey — I feel like there is a disconnect there,” Cicero said.

How Biden might tackle the Iran deal

Four more years of President Trump would almost certainly kill the Iran nuclear deal — but the election of Joe Biden wouldn’t necessarily save it.

The big picture: Rescuing the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is near the top of Biden's foreign policy priority list. He says he'd re-enter the deal once Iran returns to compliance, and use it as the basis on which to negotiate a broader and longer-lasting deal with Iran.

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Democrats look to Kamala Harris as bridge to next generation

Progressive leaders see Sen. Kamala Harris, if she's elected vice president, as their conduit to a post-Biden Democratic Party where the power will be in younger, more diverse and more liberal hands.

  • Why it matters: The party's rising left sees Harris as the best hope for penetrating Joe Biden's older, largely white inner circle.

If Biden wins, Harris will become the first woman, first Black American and first Indian American to serve as a U.S. vice president — and would instantly be seen as the first in line for the presidency should Biden decide against seeking a second term.

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Technical glitch in Facebook's ad tools creates political firestorm

Facebook said late Thursday that a mix of "technical problems" and confusion among advertisers around its new political ad ban rules, caused issues affecting ad campaigns of both parties.

Why it matters: A report out Thursday morning suggested the ad tools were causing campaign ads, even those that adhered to Facebook's new rules, to be paused. Very quickly, political campaigners began asserting the tech giant was enforcing policies in a way that was biased against their campaigns.

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States beg for Warp Speed billions to distribute COVID-19 vaccines

Operation Warp Speed has an Achilles' heel: States need billions to distribute vaccines — and many say they don't have the cash.

Why it matters: The first emergency use authorization could come as soon as next month, but vaccines require funding for workers, shipping and handling, and for reserving spaces for vaccination sites.

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Court rules Minnesota absentee ballots must be received by 8 p.m. Election Day

An appeals court on Thursday ruled that Minnesota absentee ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be counted.

Why it matters: The ruling, which comes just five days before the election, blocks the state's plan to count absentee ballots arriving late so long as they're postmarked by Nov. 3 and delivered within a week of the election. Now those ballots must be set aside and marked late.

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Twitter labels tweet from RT implying voter fraud in U.S. elections

Twitter on Thursday labeled a tweet from Russian state media outlet RT (formerly Russia Today) that included a video implying widespread voter fraud is plaguing, and potentially delegitimizing, the U.S. election.

Why it matters: It's the first time Twitter has labeled RT's account with a civic integrity label, or a designation used to highlight efforts to manipulate or interfere in elections or other civic processes.

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U.S. tops 88,000 COVID-19 cases, setting new single-day record

Data: COVID Tracking Project; Chart: Axios Visuals

The United States reported 88,452 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, setting a single-day record, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project.

The big picture: The country confirmed 1,049 additional deaths due to the virus, and there are over 46,000 people currently hospitalized, suggesting the U.S. is experiencing a third wave heading into the winter months.

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The norms around science and politics are cracking

Crafting successful public health measures depends on the ability of top scientists to gather data and report their findings unrestricted to policymakers.

State of play: But concern has spiked among health experts and physicians over what they see as an assault on key science protections, particularly during a raging pandemic. And a move last week by President Trump, via an executive order, is triggering even more worries.

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