BATON ROUGE, La. —
Vice President Mike Pence, speaking at a press conference in Baton Rouge, downplayed the rising number of coronavirus cases across Louisiana and the rest of the nation, saying "our ability to respond to this pandemic is substantially better than two or three months ago."
Pence doubled down on the White House message that schools should reopen, a message at odds with the reality in Louisiana where districts are asking parents to decide between in-person and distance learning or delaying the 2020-2021 school year.
"We believe it's in the best interests of students...to get students back on campuses," Pence said."
Shortly before Pence's comments in Louisiana, Center for Disease Control Director Dr. Robert Redfield, while speaking in Charlotte, North Carolina, said he supports sending students back to the classroom.
He said the virus has caused few deaths in kids and protecting teachers who may be vulnerable will be key in reopening schools.
“My analysis of this on the public health scale is way in favor of reopening schools face to face and these kids can get the education they deserve,” he said.
But the CDC's guidelines for schools to consider encourage teachers and students to stay home when possible, mitigating the contact between students and teachers who might be at a higher risk from COVID-19.
Pence was blunt Tuesday in dismissing those guidelines in favor of a quick reopening.
"To be very clear, we don't want CDC guidance to be a reason why people don't reopen their schools," he said.
He pointed to possible lower risk factors among children for catching coronavirus, which could make them poor vectors for virus transmission.
"We know that the risk the coronavirus presents to people under the age of 18 is very low," Pence said. "But we also want to make sure that we have measures in place that protect faculty that may be vulnerable and so prevent kids from exposing others or bringing home the virus."
Pence instead focused on another metric Louisiana is ahead in: testing.
"We’re incredibly inspired by Louisiana's innovation very early on in expanding testing...well above the national average," he said. By almost any testing metric, Louisiana is one of the top 10 states, according to federal officials.
"We support your decision in that regard," Pence said. "We’re opening up America again, and we’re dealing with the rising cases across the Sun Belt. It's not either-or. We don’t have to choose."
And as Louisiana continues in Phase 2, Pence encouraged residents to follow the governor's orders, including the recent mask mandate when outside.
"Put into practice those common-sense steps that flattened the curve here in Louisiana again," the Vice President said. "Wear a mask."