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Some of the people most strongly associated with promoting lockdown measures during the COVID-19 pandemic have recently sought to recast their positions. Examples include Anthony Fauci, former leader of the federal COVID-19 response, teachers’ union head Randi Weingarten, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Fauci seemed eager to shirk responsibility for the lockdowns when talking to The New York Times last week.
“Show me a school that I shut down and show me a factory that I shut down. Never. I never did,” he said.
It was the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that produced the lockdown recommendations, he emphasized.
“I gave a public-health recommendation that echoed the CDC’s recommendation, and people made a decision based on that,” he said, noting that he “happened to be perceived as the personification of the recommendations.”
That perception wasn’t mere happenstance though. Fauci hardly missed an opportunity for a media spotlight, accepting accolades for supposedly leading the country through the crisis.
Fauci boasted in October of 2020 that, early in the pandemic, it was he who recommended that President Donald Trump “shut the country down.”
“This was way before” the major outbreak in the New York City area at the onset of the pandemic, he said.
Moreover, Fauci now argues he was appreciative of those who had their reasons for not following the advice of federal public health agencies.
“I never criticized the people who had to make the decisions one way or the other,” he said.
That doesn’t appear to be accurate.
Fauci was repeatedly cited by the media as criticizing states that diverged from federal guidance.
On one occasion he called it “risky” and on another warned of “needless suffering and death” if states lifted COVID-19 restrictions earlier than federal guidelines suggested.
The former pandemic adviser now acknowledges that COVID-19 vaccines were presented to the public in a less-than-ideal way.
“We probably should have communicated better that the clinical trials were only powered to look at the effect on clinically recognizable disease, symptomatic disease,” he told the New York Times.
Nonetheless, various officials made comments to the effect that the vaccines stopped transmission of the virus—which was incorrect—while people who pointed out the limitations of the vaccine clinical trials were dismissed as “anti-vax” and censored by social media.
“Records can be shown to demonstrate Fauci’s undeniable leadership on decisions that led to substantial pain for otherwise healthy and productive Americans,” commented Michael Chamberlain, director of Protect the Public’s Trust, a group that pushes for government transparency and impartiality.
Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), recently told Congress that the union advocated for school reopening from early on in the pandemic.
“We spent every day from February  on trying to get schools open,” she said.
That appears to be only partially true.
The union did issue a paper in April of 2020 that proposed reopening schools that were largely shut down the month before amid the rising spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 (pdf).
In practice, however, Weingarten always appeared to demand more to be done before schools could be opened “safely.”
Some of the core demands included universal masking of teachers and students, improving ventilation at school buildings, and maintaining 6-foot physical distancing at all times. But those requirements, according to the union, required major investment or sacrifices of classroom time. Classes needed to be much smaller, for example, to ensure the distancing.
“If you do 6 feet of physical distancing, you’re essentially saying in a school you’re going to have about 50 percent or 60 percent of people in there at any one time, not a 100 percent,” Weingarten told NBC News in February of 2021.
And the demands went on.
United Federation of Teachers’ (UFT’s) reopening report from February of 2021 called for 20 percent of all students and staff to be tested each week. If one student tested positive, the whole classroom should be sent home for 14 days; if two students in different classrooms tested positive, the whole school should shut down in-person learning for 14 days, the document recommended (pdf).
New York City schools tried to implement similar if less stringent rules, only to prompt protests from parents.
“Day 2 of school. A positive case was found in daughter’s classroom. 25 kids now have remote school for 10 days,” Jill Goldstein, who has a child in one of the city schools, wrote on Twitter.
“This is unacceptable.”
There also appeared to be a tendency to delay school reopening until teachers had ample opportunity to get vaccinated.
On one hand, the AFT said vaccinations weren’t necessary for school reopening, but on the other, it argued that teachers needed to be prioritized for vaccination and that vaccination progress should be “aligned” with the reopening.
“Teachers and school-related personnel need the layer of protection vaccines provide. It is the bare minimum of what they need to get back into the classroom,” Weingarten said in a February 24, 2021, tweet.
In some of the districts with large local unions and robust reopening demands, it was only after the vaccines became widely available that local authorities were able to reach reopening deals, according to a report by the Defense of Freedom Institute (pdf).
Some of the AFT’s largest local affiliates went even further.
United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), one of the AFT’s largest and most powerful affiliates, argued that reopening would require “broader community preparedness and increased funding.” That was supposed to include not only prolific testing, masking, and social distancing, but also expanded sick leave, a wealth tax, a millionaire tax, “Medicare for all,” and a moratorium on charter schools, according to a document issued by the union in July of 2020 (pdf). The document is no longer accessible on the UTLA website.
Facing public resistance, the UTLA in the end agreed to a reopening plan without such extraneous demands.
Resources, Red Zones, and Politics
Weingarten seemed rather inflexible in her demands.
When the CDC lifted mask recommendations for COVID-19-vaccinated people in May of 2021, Weingarten criticized Texas for no longer requiring masks in schools, pointing out that children weren’t eligible for the vaccine yet. Two months later, the CDC recommended masks again regardless of vaccination, citing the spread of the virus’ Delta variant and data showing vaccinated people were spreading it just as much as the unvaccinated.
Experts have warned that masking children, especially the youngest ones, could stunt their development. Some people have also criticized what they perceived as arbitrary masking rules. If classes were held at restaurants, for example, students would have been presumably allowed to take their masks off while sitting, based on rules once in place in many jurisdictions.
When the CDC cut the school social distancing guideline to 3 feet, Weingarten pushed back: “The issue with the change in distancing in schools is that overcrowded and under-resourced schools are already having trouble meeting basic safety guidelines. We need to be focusing on actually getting all of the mitigation strategies in place first.”
The UFT also pushed for the CDC to issue universal guidelines as a condition of schools reopening. The CDC did so in February of 2021, but only after extensive consultations with the UFT and the inclusion of several of its demands.
Just as Weingarten wanted, the guidelines called for reopening based on the level of detected COVID-19 cases in the community. Schools in “red zones”—those that couldn’t offer COVID-19 tests to all teachers and students at least once a week—should have held virtual classes, unless they could “strictly implement all mitigation strategies.”
The thresholds were so low that almost all schools were in “red zones” back then.
Weingarten made clear the guidelines couldn’t in fact be universally implemented—not unless Congress gave public schools much more money.
“Educators, students, and parents all want our schools to #ReopenSafely. But we need the resources from the #AmericanRescuePlan to do it,” she said in a February 17, 2021, tweet. She was referring to the $1.9 trillion spending package pushed by the Biden administration, which promised public schools $130 billion on top of the $110 billion given by Congress to schools and colleges in the previous COVID-19 packages.
In fact, the massive amount of federal funding had little to do with school reopening. The Congressional Budget Office stated in February of 2021 that most of the $110 billion remained unspent and less than 5 percent of the $130 billion was to be spent by September of 2021 (pdf).
Surveys have indicated that many teachers didn’t want to return to work because they were afraid they would catch COVID-19 (pdf). Yet research has indicated that the virus was spreading in schools no more than outside of schools and that children were actually less likely to spread it—even in areas that, according to Weingarten, opened prematurely, such as Florida.
Teachers could theoretically avoid the virus by shutting themselves in their homes, but that would only shift the risk from themselves to other people who still had to operate in the outside world on their behalf, delivering food and other necessities to them.
In the end, school reopening appears to have had little to do with resources and federal guidelines.
Poorer districts that masked less vigorously, for example, were somewhat more likely to be open in 2021, according to the Return to Learn Tracker. The factors most prominently associated with in-person instruction were the political leaning of the district and the estimated strength of the local teachers’ union, one research paper showed.
“The decision to return students to in-person classes this fall was strongly correlated with the county level share of the vote won by Donald Trump in 2016,” according to the working paper.
“The efforts to rewrite history by those who advocated for severe restrictions and school closures are absolutely galling, especially considering their documented roles in forming those very policies they are running from now,” Chamberlain told The Epoch Times.
“They pushed for the lockdowns that destroyed lives and livelihoods, pressed to keep students out of schools while parents watched their kids deteriorate academically, physically, and socially-emotionally, some to the point of suicide.”
National testing showed a dramatic drop in test scores after children finally returned to classrooms.
Meanwhile, hotline calls regarding children and domestic violence went up more than 50 percent during the initial lockdown months, and reports of predators enticing minors online almost doubled in 2020. Suspected suicides by self-poisoning increased by 30 percent in 2021, compared to 2019, an April paper revealed.
Still, Weingarten appeared at times reluctant to acknowledge how much the lack of in-person instruction set children back.
“Clearly there was education disruption, but our members push back on the idea that there was a loss of education,” she said, according to a May 18, 2021 AFT tweet.
Chamberlain accused the likes of Fauci and Weingarten of gaslighting: “trying to convince the American public that they did and said exactly the opposite of what they actually did and said.”
Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claimed last week that he never forced anyone to get the vaccine, although he “chose to make sure that all the incentives and all the protections were there to encourage Canadians to get vaccinated.”
“This is precisely why the public’s trust in government has fallen off a cliff during the pandemic,” Chamberlain said.
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