President Joe Biden held his first town hall since taking office on Tuesday, taking questions from a live audience in Wisconsin. Biden addressed questions on COVID-19 vaccines, returning students to school and his proposed $1.9 trillion spending bill.
Here are some of the highlights:
Biden says that he is open to extending the current school year into the summer to make up for the loss of instruction over the last year due to the coronavirus.
“My guess is they’re probably going to be pushing to open all through the summer like it is a different semester,” Biden said about possible government recommendations.
School 5 days a week
Biden admitted that his administration had a “miscommunication” about his stance on fully opening schools. While press secretary Jen Psaki suggested that Biden’s goal was to make sure students could return to school on a part-time basis, Biden says that he still wants schools to be open five days a week by the end of April, which will mark the end of his first 100 days in office.
“I think we will be close to that by the end of the first 100 days,” Biden said.
Biden added that teachers should be moved up on the vaccination list.
“I think we should be vaccinating teachers, we should be moving them up the hierarchy,” Biden said.
Biden said that it will be easier to move kids K-8 back into classrooms full time, but says because high school students are more likely to transmit the coronavirus, it could take longer for them to return full time to school.
600 million vaccine doses by the end of July
Biden said that coronavirus vaccines will be available for all American adults by the end of July, adding that 600 million doses will be available by then. The two vaccines currently out with FDA emergency use authorization requires two shots.
Biden stressed that while the vaccines will be available by then, that does not mean that 300 million Americans will be vaccinated.
“If you’re eligible, if it is available, get the vaccine,” Biden stressed.
‘You’ll be fine’
Biden fielded a question from a concerned mom who attended the town hall with her 8-year-old daughter. Biden addressed the girl directly, trying to alleviate her concerns over the coronavirus and vaccinating children.
“We haven’t even done tests yet on children as to whether or not the certain vaccines would work or not work or what is needed,” he said.
“I wouldn’t worry about it, baby. I promise you,” Biden said. “But I know it’s kind of worrisome… you are going to be fine and we are going to make sure mommy is fine, too.”
Last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci told ProPublica that he projects that children can start getting vaccinated before the fall. Data indicates young children do not spread the virus nearly as efficiently as adults.
Fauci said getting children vaccinated for the coronavirus would come in phases.
“We’re in the process of starting clinical trials in what we call age de-escalation, where you do a clinical trial with people 16 to 12, then 12 to 9, then 9 to 6,” Fauci told ProPublica. “I would think by the time we get to school opening, we likely will be able to get people who come into the first grade.”
Returning to normal
Biden said he did not want to “overpromise” on when life will return to normal in the US.
“It’s a high probability that the vaccinations available today and the new one, Johnson & Johnson, God willing will prove to be useful, with those vaccines, the ability to spread the disease will diminish considerably because of what they call herd immunity,” he said.
“By next Christmas, we’ll be in a very different circumstance,” Biden predicted.
He also said that he expects the US to be in better shape by the start of the traditional school year in September.
Rejecting $50,000 student loan forgiveness
As a Wisconsin voter pleaded with Biden to eliminate $50,000 in student debt, Biden immediately shot down the request. Members of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party have pushed for Biden to forgive $50,000, but Biden says he is open to forgiving up to $10,000.
Instead, Biden said he wants to make community colleges free to attend. He also wants to make state universities free for students from families that make below $125,000 per year.
“I think we should be eliminating interest on the debts that are accumulated and I am prepared to write off $10,000 in debt, but not the 50 (thousand), because I don’t think I have the authority,” Biden said.