Biden Pushes for K-8 School Reopening in COVID Anniversary Address
Many of the president’s pledges require state and local cooperation.
In his first prime-time address, President Joe Biden on Thursday announced he would direct states to make all American adults eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine by May 1 and would seek to reopen the majority of K-8 schools within his first 100 days, though the latter rests under state and local control.
The move comes as the president—who today re-upped his promise to purchase another 100 million doses from Johnson & Johnson—attempts to ensure that vaccine supply eventually outpaces demand. He again pledged to have every willing U.S. adult inoculated by the end of May.
"That's months ahead of schedule," he said in the address, noting efforts to make the doses widely accessible. "Millions and millions of grandparents who went months without being able to hug their grandchildren can now do so." The president invoked guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which urges masking and social distancing in day-to-day life but lowers the risk calculus for groups of vaccinated people.
Biden further announced that he would seek to have at least 2 million shots administered per day—doubling the goal he set prior to entering office—and, beginning May 1, would unveil "new tools," including a government website, to facilitate appointment scheduling.
The president also pivoted back to a commitment he made before entering office, one that he seemed to equivocate on after inauguration: "We can accelerate a massive nationwide effort to reopen our schools safely, and meet my goal…of opening the majority of K-8 schools during my first 100 days in office," he said, emphasizing that it would be "the number one priority" of Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.
Biden's stance on this issue has continued to morph into something new—that goal didn't originally come with the K-8 qualifier, for instance—as he's wrangled with teachers unions, many of which have refused to reenter the classroom until COVID-19 has been all but eradicated. Some have also hung reopening on a slew of unrelated demands, such as abolishing charter schools, instituting Medicare for All, and defunding the police.
His demurral would have made less political sense, however, after the passage of the American Rescue plan, the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill that will funnel schools billions of dollars. Biden has maintained that such a package was the only way to secure a safe reopening, although it's worth noting that the bulk of that money won't be used in the near-term, as schools currently have $100 billion in unused funds from prior coronavirus relief legislation. The president signed the bill today.
He had two remaining promises: First, that the American public can expect forthcoming guidance on what we can and cannot do once vaccinated. Second, that Biden "will not relent until we beat this virus."
"I need every American to do their part. That's not hyperbole. I need you," he said. "If we do this together, by July the 4th, there's a good chance, you, your families, and friends will be able to get together…After this long, hard year, that will make this Independence Day something truly special, where we not only mark our independence as a nation, but we begin to mark our independence from this virus."
He made sure to hedge his bets. "A lot can happen," he said. "Conditions can change." Indeed, if politicians have confirmed one thing over the last year, it's that the goalposts can also change, from two weeks to flatten the curve to a year and a half—if we're lucky.