Trump cites few coronavirus deaths among kids in N.J. as reason for reopening schools

Trump cites few coronavirus deaths among kids in N.J. as reason for reopening schools

President Donald Trump continued Sunday to push for schools to reopen this fall despite the surging coronavirus pandemic in the United States and during a “Fox News Sunday” interview cited New Jersey’s death rate for children to support his position.

“Let the schools open,” Trump said. “Do you ever see the statistics for young people below the age of 18? The state of New Jersey had thousands of deaths. Of all of these thousands, one person below the age of 18 — in the entire state — one person and that was a person that had, I believe he said diabetes. One person below the age of 18 died in the state of New Jersey during all of this — you know, they had a hard time. And they’re doing very well now, so that’s it.”

The actual number was two children, both of them below age 5, according to the state Health Department. In May, a 4-year-old with an undisclosed underlying medical condition was the first child in New Jersey to die from complications related to the virus. A second child, described only as a “very young individual,” died in June.

New Jersey has had 15,706 confirmed and probable deaths — second in the nation only to New York — and 176,783 cases since the outbreak began in March, state officials said Sunday. Of the total cases, more than 4,700 were under the age of 18.

N.J. coronavirus age

New Jersey coronavirus cases by age group as of Saturday.

Trump, who pushed governors to reopen their economies only to see coronavirus cases spike in states like Florida and Texas that followed his advice, urged school districts to do the same, even threatening to withhold federal funds from schools that do not.

“When they don’t open their schools, we’re not going to fund them,” he said on Fox. “We’re not going to give them money if they’re not going to school, if they don’t open.”

The president, in downplaying the risk to students, did not discuss the safety of reopening schools for adult teachers and staff. New Jersey has more than 116,000 full-time classroom teachers in more than 2,500 public schools, according to the state’s latest available statistics.

In a Fox News poll released Sunday, only 15% of respondents said schools should reopen as usual while 21% said they should reopen with social distancing and masks, 25% said all learning should be remote, and 31% favored a hybrid of in-person and remote learning.

The Fox survey and one by ABC News/Washington Post also released Sunday gave the president low marks for his handling of the pandemic. He was at 60% disapproval in the ABC/Post survey, with 38% approving, and at 56% disapproval and 43% approval in the Fox poll.

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New Jersey closed its schools on March 18 and required students to continue their education remotely through June.

But with the spread of COVID-19 diminishing in the Garden State, Gov. Phil Murphy has asked the state’s 577 school districts to develop plans for reopening their classrooms this fall.

“We’ve laid out strongly held principles of parameters,” Murphy said Friday during his coronavirus briefing. “It’s up to the districts now to come back to us and to their constituents, to their kids, most importantly, to the parents, to the educators, the administrators, and to us with their plans.”

He also left open the possibility that schools might not reopen on time.

“The strong bias, hope, expectation, the plan is to open,” he said. ”If we get close and if we see something, not just on any given day but a trend that is causing enormous concern, we’re not gonna put people’s health at risk.”

New Jersey Education Association President Marie Blistan warned last week that it was “not possible” to “have schools open on the regular calendar.”

And NJEA spokesman Steve Baker said Sunday that Trump was “not a reliable source for true and honest information about this deadly pandemic.”

“When it comes to the wellbeing of New Jersey students and educators, that’s a decision we’re going to make in New Jersey based on our values and our scientific, medical and educational analysis of the situation,” Baker said.

“Perhaps the president has a certain acceptable number for dead students and staff. In New Jersey we are going to prioritize the health and well-being of every student and every educator.”

Both polls were conducted July 12-15. The Fox poll of 1,104 registered voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The ABC/Post survey of 1,006 adults had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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Jonathan D. Salant may be reached at [email protected].

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