July 7 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump said Tuesday that the White House plans to pressure state and local lawmakers to reopen schools in the fall months after they closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trump, first lady Melania Trump and Vice President Mike Pence participated in a roundtable discussion at the White House following multiple sessions in Washington, D.C., recently that examined how education officials can transition back to physical classes.
"We're very much going to put pressure on the governors and the schools to reopen," President Trump said. "Open your schools in the fall."
President Trump, who tweeted Monday that "SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" continued to downplay the effects of the coronavirus and its longterm effects saying that the fall is going to be "a much better climate than right now" as multiple states have experienced a surge in cases.
"We want to get our schools open -- we want to get them open quickly," he said.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar agreed that schools must reopen.
"We've got to get people back to work, back to school, back to healthcare, because we can't stay locked in our homes forever," Azar said. "It's bad for our physical and mental and emotional health -- us as adults, as well as for our kids."
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said it was "not a question of if -- it's just a question of how" schools reopen this fall and warned against "excuse-making or fear-mongering" after earlier in the day criticizing implementation of distance learning in some districts.
"Education leaders need to examine real data and weigh risk ... risk is involved in everything we do, from learning to ride a bike to riding a rocket into space and everything in between," DeVos said.
Senior administration officials told reporters in a conference call earlier that it's important for schools to reopen in the fall, as they fill critical needs for students and parents. Citing similar needs, the state of Florida on Monday ordered its schools to reopen next month.
Despite Tuesday's event and federal discussions, the ultimate decision about whether to reopen schools will be made at the state and municipal level.
"At the end of the day, these are state and local decisions," a senior White House official said. "We recognize education officials will need the leadership of public health officials. We are starting with the goal of having students physically in school [for the fall]."
Florida's order requires public schools to reopen in August and they must remain open at least five days a week.
Any decision to reopen classrooms in a few weeks is sure to be met by some opposition. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said Monday the United States is still "knee deep" in the first wave of COVID-19 and still has a long road ahead before the end.
"We have confidence the local leaders are looking out for those best practices and leveraging those to make these decisions," the White House official added.
The official noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention never recommended closing U.S. schools in the spring -- and said opening classes would actually be a benefit, since schools can provide health and other key resources for children.
The White House said Pence planned to speak to governors Tuesday in a conference call about reopening schools. Panel discussions will then be held to focus on best safety practices and how the federal government can provide aid.