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Reopening the economy hinges on school safety

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., speaks at a committee hearing on Capitol Hill on May 7, 2020.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., speaks at a committee hearing on Capitol Hill on May 7, 2020.Anna Moneymaker / Pool via Reuters

WASHINGTON — If you want to reopen the economy, how do you make schools and colleges safe beginning in August?

That was arguably the most important question asked — by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. — at yesterday’s Senate hearing on the coronavirus.

Because if you can’t tackle that problem, then you can’t fix all of the other problems (like workplaces, businesses and sports).

Alexander: "What would you say to the chancellor of the University of Tennessee Knoxville or the principal of a public school about how to persuade parents and students to return to school in August? Let's start with treatments and vaccines first."

Dr. Anthony Fauci: "I would tell [the chancellor] that in this case that the idea of having treatments available or a vaccine to facilitate the re-entry of students into the fall term would be something that would be a bit of a bridge too far."

Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, later added, “going back to school would be more in the realm of knowing the landscape of infection with regard to testing. And as Admiral Giroir said, it would depend on the dynamics of the outbreak in the region where the school is.”

Admiral Brett Giroir, who’s leading the Trump administration’s coronavirus testing effort, said there should be 40 to 50 million tests per month available by the fall.

“We will have 40 to 50 million tests available per month that need to be deployed in a smart, strategic way, depending on the dynamics in that area and in that region. Still, having testing even widely does not nullify the need that we’re going to have to change our practices in terms of sanitation, personal cleanliness, distancing, face masks, things like that, given what the dynamics could be.”

So will schools have access to adequate testing? How will they implement social distancing and sanitation?

And what about younger children in schools? Can they infect adults?

NBC’s Benjy Sarlin says the research is mixed so far on that question, and finding a consensus may take time.

“It's difficult making policy when you still have these conflicting studies coming out,” Dr. Tara Smith, an epidemiologist at Kent State, tells Sarlin. “Either way, you're potentially hurting someone — you could be exposing the kids or teachers or leaving parents without child care. There’s no good answer.”

By the way, the Cal State University system — the largest four-year university system in the country — said Tuesday that it’s planning to cancel most of its in-person classes for the fall and will offer mostly online courses.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

1,384,424: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 40,551 more than yesterday morning.)

83,557: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 1,741 more than yesterday morning).

9.64 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

100 million: The number of pre-filled syringes the Trump administration hopes to produce by the end of this year to ramp up capacity to administer a coronavirus vaccine

Up to $1,200 per person: The next round of stimulus payments to Americans under a Democratic recovery plan introduced in the House yesterday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

More than half: The share of poll workers in 2016 who were 61 or older, leading to concerns about who will administer this year’s in-person voting.

About 25 million more: The number of Americans who ventured outside their homes on an average day last week, compared to the previous six weeks, according to a New York Times analysis.

80 percent: The share of Americans who say they believe it is necessary to wear a mask when coming close to others outside their home, according to a new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll.

61 percent: The share of Americans who say the federal government — rather than the states — should take the lead on ensuring adequate coronavirus tests, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Red flags for Redfield?

Our NBC/WSJ poll and other surveys show that the Centers for Disease Control has some of the best favorability and trust numbers with the American public in this coronavirus crisis.

So it was notable just how many hits the CDC’s director, Robert Redfield, took at yesterday’s Senate hearing.

Here was Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.: "Contact tracing. South Korea embraced a rigorous contact tracing program right from the beginning. The United States still has not engaged in a national contact tracing program. Isn’t that right? Maybe Dr. Fauci or Dr. Redfield?

Fauci: "Sir, I think that question would be directed to the CDC and not the NIH."

Redfield: "When the outbreak started sir, we had an aggressive contact tracing program, but unfortunately, as the cases rose, it went beyond the capacity and we went to mitigation. So we lost the containment edge clearly moving forward."

Here was Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska: “Let me turn to Dr. Redfield, because this relates to contact tracing. I think that this is a very, very key part of how we move forward into getting people back to work, getting people back to school. Right now, we have about a hundred people who are involved in contact tracing in Alaska, that’s clearly not sufficient.”

And here was Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah: “Dr. Redfield, Sen. Sinema and I wrote a letter to you expressing our dismay at the lack of real-time data at the CDC. I’m thinking about granular, demographic, hospitalization, treatment data. How is it possible in this day and age that the CDC has never established such a real-time system with accurate data?”


Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: Breaking down last night’s election results

In the marquee contest from last night, Republican Mike Garcia leads Democrat Christy Smith by 12 points in the CA-25 special congressional election, 56 percent to 44 percent.

But the race hasn’t been called yet — due to outstanding ballots left to count.

In the less competitive WI-7 special, Republican Tom Tiffany defeated Democrat Tricia Zunker, 57 percent to 43 percent. Trump won the district by 20 points in 2016.

And in the Democratic NE-2 primary for the right to take on incumbent Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., in the fall, progressive Kara Eastman easily beat the more moderate Ann Ashford, 62 percent to 32 percent.

Ad watch from Ben Kamisar: The Peters Principle

Today’s Ad Watch goes back to Michigan’s Senate race, this time for incumbent Democratic Sen. Gary Peters’ new TV ads.

The two, direct-to-camera, coronavirus-related spots highlight the unique position Peters is in as one of the only Democratic incumbents facing a tough challenge this cycle.

The first spot emphasizes Peters’ call for increased testing, employment protection and a focus on American manufacturing as he plans to get “Michigan back to work.”

But the second is focused entirely on China, which stands out amid the GOP’s push to shift criticism surrounding the crisis toward China and away from President Trump.

In that second spot, Peters calls for a reopening that “puts Michigan first.” And he goes on to tick through how he’s “always been tough on the Chinese government, supporting the China travel ban, demanding the truth about the spread of COVI-19” as well as a push to move drug manufacturing from China to America.

The one-two punch of ads shows that Peters is trying to embrace a best-of-both-worlds strategy on coronavirus messaging.

The first ad, a call for increased testing and worker protection, is right in line with Democratic messaging on coronavirus response. But the second gives Peters an opportunity to, without saying the president’s name or litigating the debate over his response, highlight areas where they agree and embrace the “tough-on-China” approach.

Here’s what’s in the House Dem $3 trillion “wish list”

The House Democratic leadership on Tuesday unveiled its next piece of relief legislation – The Heroes Act. Per NBC’s Capitol Hill team, the package (which is still unlikely to be taken up by the Senate) totals more than $3 trillion.

Here are some of the highlights of plan:

  • State/local/tribal/territorial governments: $1 trillion (state $500B ; local $375B; tribal $20B ; territories $20B]
  • Essential Workers Hero Fund: $200 billion
  • Testing, Tracing, Treatment: $75 billion
  • Small Businesses: $10 billion
  • Housing Assistance $175 billion
  • Broadband: $1.5 billion
  • Elections: $3.6 billion
  • Postal Service: $25 billion
  • Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund: $175 billion
  • Money for DC: $755 million

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told members to expect to vote on the bill on Friday, but Democratic Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Mark Pocan (the chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus) want the vote delayed until next week to give more time to members to review the legislation. As for Republicans? House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called the package a “liberal wish list.”

The Lid: Testing, testing, one, two, three

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at new polling showing that a majority of Americans want the federal government to lead on testing.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The federal judge in the Michael Flynn case is making the unusual move of soliciting briefs from outside parties.

Jared Kushner is walking back comments in which he seemed to suggest uncertainty that the election would take place on time in November.

Joe Biden is defending his current campaign style — which is keeping him off the physical campaign trail for the moment.

The Supreme Court will hear a case on “faithless electors” today.

And the court seems headed for a split decision on Trump’s tax returns.