School closures, masks until 2022: Biden campaign promises appear increasingly in doubt

U.S. is still "in the teeth of this pandemic," president says.

Published: February 13, 2021 11:19am

Updated: February 13, 2021 7:50pm

President Joe Biden's administration appears to be subtly backing off several key COVID promises Biden made while on the campaign trail, potentially suggesting a re-alignment of strategy amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

Biden in December vowed that, assuming "strong public health measures" were in place, his administration would "work to see that the majority of our schools can be open by the end of my first 100 days." 

Yet guidance released this week offered a more tempered version of that bold pledge. The CDC's reopening guidelines stipulate that schools in areas of high COVID transmission should consider switching to "virtual only instruction" unless administrators in those areas "can strictly implement all mitigation strategies," including physical distancing requirements and "universal and correct use of masks."

The logistics of ensuring hundreds of students constantly obey hardline mask rules while remaining six feet apart at all times could prove too difficult for many schools. As CNN noted this week, nearly 100% of U.S. students are in high "red zone" transmission areas under those guidelines.

Further indicating a re-assessment of executive COVID ambitions, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki this week claimed that Biden's "goal" is for "the majority of schools, so more than 50 percent, open by day 100 of his presidency."

Psaki clarified that she was defining an "open" school as "at least one day a week," though she conceded: "Hopefully it’s more."

Elsewhere Biden has suggested that the U.S. may continue wearing face masks much longer than he initially proposed. On the campaign trail Biden pledged to "ask" Americans to wear face masks for the first 100 days of his presidency, something he claimed could help bring the pandemic under control. 

Data indicate that nine out of 10 Americans already regularly wear masks, but Biden numerous times stressed the importance of his voluntary mask proposal. 

Yet this week he indicated that masking requirements may continue for much longer. Speaking to reporters at the National Institutes of Health, Biden refused to remove his mask even though he was standing about 10 feet away from the press, nearly double the standard "social distancing" recommendation.

“You know that wearing this mask through the next year here can save lives — a significant number of lives,” Biden told the press.

Whether that signals a shift in the Biden administration's masking priorities is unclear. Biden himself, after promising to address the COVID pandemic over the course of his presidential campaign, last month appeared to sharply diverge from his earlier confidence on the issue, suggesting there was nothing he or his administration could do to counteract the virus in the near future. 

"There's nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months," he said during a White House speech.

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