Second Gentleman Pool Reports of August 9, 2021

August 09, 2021

Pool Reports by Jason Tidd, Topeka Capital-Journal

Sent: Reports:
August 9, 2021
14:10 CDT

Pool Report #1

Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona arrived at around 12:11 p.m. Monday at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Topeka High School gymnasium.

The visit to a back-to-school vaccine clinic was part of the Biden-Harris Administration's "Back to School Week of Action."

Emhoff and Cardona were joined on the tour by Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla, Topeka Public Schools Superintendent Tiffany Anderson and Dr. Ximena Garcia, who serves as the governor's advisor on COVID-19 vaccine equity.

Bernadette Quiroz, of Topeka, told Emhoff that she was getting vaccinated after the COVID-19 hospitalization, intubation and death of a family member.

"Think of your loved ones" and protect them by getting vaccinated, Emhoff said.

"Any little bit of protection helps," Quiroz replied.

In Kansas, about 45.5% of the total population is fully vaccinated, according to data released Friday by the White House COVID-19 task force. That's below the nationwide figure of 49.9% as of Aug. 5.

Vaccination rates are lower among teenagers, which has concerned public health officials as schools reopen amid a COVID-19 surge fueled by the highly-contagious delta coronavirus variant. Children as young as 12 are eligible to be vaccinated, but only about 26% of Kansas children aged 12-17 are fully vaccinated. The national number is 33.3%.

Classes for the 2021-22 academic year are scheduled to begin this week for many Kansas school districts. Students return to Topeka Public Schools on Wednesday.

August 9, 2021
17:47 CDT

SGOTUS Pool Report #2 Kansas

Emhoff and Cardona visited student-athletes in the high school weight room for a conversation facilitated by school Superintendent Tiffany Anderson.

"The student athletes have so much opportunity to speak about why it matters to get back in the classroom and on the field, to be there for your team," Cardona said.

NiJaree Canady, a rising senior, said schools can't go back to "normal" because of the low vaccination rate and the new wave of COVID-10.

"Cases are still going up. This problem is our doing," Canady said.

"My basketball and softball seasons got stolen from me," Canady said. "We didn't have the vaccine, and now we have it. If you don't want another season taken, we need to get vaccinated."

Kansas is listed as a state with "high" community transmission, according to the White House task force's report from Friday. The state's weekly per-capita case rate is more than double the red zone threshold with 220 new cases per 100,000 people. The positive test rate is 11.2%, which is in the red zone.

Of the state's 105 counties, 92 have either "substantial" or "high" community spread, which is the basis for the CDC's mask recommendation. Shawnee County, home to Topeka, is listed as a "sustained hotspot."

Students told the government officials that vaccines should be provided at schools, like the Topeka High School clinic, to help students be in a comfortable environment when getting the shot.

Cardona told the students that their peers look up to them, and he encouraged the use of social media to highlight their experiences getting vaccinated. He promised to retweet their posts if they tag him.

"You have voice," Cardona said. "Sometimes our systems are not designed to listen or let you talk, but we need you now. We need our student-athletes to communicate the message that it's safe ... and you can get back to the things you love."

"You have already sacrificed enough as high school students. So let's all do our part."

"Tell your friends, 'don't be the reason I don't have a season,'" Cardona said.

August 9, 2021

SGOTUS Pool report #3 Kansas

Emhoff and Cardona met for a discussion in a Topeka High classroom with student ambassadors DeAundre Hicks, Marissa Wagner, Kelm Lear and Ryleigh McLaury.

"You have all missed out on a lot," Emhoff said. "I know it's hard, and to see what's happening with delta as well. We thought we were through the worst of it, and now delta is here and you're seeing infections on the rise again."

Emhoff, who is a father of two, encouraged parents to get their children vaccinated now. He said it was "the biggest relief, as a parent ... I want you all as parents to feel the same way."

Emhoff said vaccines are safe, effective and free. He said that counties with low vaccination rates tend to have higher disease rates, while areas with high vaccination see fewer infections, serious disease and death.

"We have to got to keep going and get these vaccination rates up," Emhoff said.

Cardona said 50 million students across the country will be starting class in the coming weeks.

"We owe it to those students ... to do what we know works to safely reopen our schools," Cardona said. "... It's on us to make sure that we limit the disruptions, and we have the tools to get it done."

"We're taking care of other people's children, and they have to trust us to care for their children," Cardona said.

Lear noted existing requirements for other vaccines at schools and asked whether the Biden Administration is considering a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for staff.

Cardona said they are remaining respectful of the Food and Drug Administration's process as the vaccine developers seek full approval.

"I believe that once that process happens and it's finally approved outside of the emergency approval ... I do think we are going to have those conversations," Cardona said.

Cardona praised the additional funding under the American Rescue Plan Act, which assists schools with testing supplies and other pandemic needs.

"We have to build back better," Cardona said. "These schools need to be better than they were in March 2020. The funds are there, the president gets it, we're pushing for schools that address inequities in ways that we didn't before."

The downtown high school is a little over a mile away from the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. The 1954 Supreme Court ruling found that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.

Hicks said "COVID-19 hit the Black and Brown community really bad" and asked how the Biden Administration is addressing racial disparities and generational distrust of the government.

Cardona said it is important to be honest, to listen as people explain their lived experiences and to work with local pastors.

"I have a lot of young family members," McLaury said. "While they can't get vaccinated, I think it's important for me to do my part so I can help protect them. And not only them, but everybody else in the community."

"There should not be skepticism about the science," Emhoff said. "It is very clear from the evidence that these vaccines are safe and they work."

"You've seen the heartbreaking videos of people in the hospital, and what do they say? They say I wish I would have gotten vaccinated," Emhoff said. "Let's not have any more of those videos."

"We are either helping our children, or we're hurting our children," Cardona said. "There's no grey area here. It's safe, and I think it's our way as a country to get back into school and give you the best opportunity to be in those extracurricular activities, those games, those clubs, in-person. You've suffered enough, we have got to get it done."

August 9, 2021

SGOTUS Pool Report #4

Pool Report #4, final, unless any corrections/clarifications are necessary

Emhoff and Cardona had a short media availability in the Topeka High classroom.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics both recommend universal masking in K-12 schools, not all public school districts in Kansas plan to follow that guidance.

Emhoff and Cardona were asked whether mask mandates are necessary in schools, and if outbreaks and a return to remote learning are inevitable without masking up.

Cardona said that everyone has mask fatigue, but everything should be done to ensure safe, in-person learning.

"We owe it to our students not to allow more disruption, and we know what works," Cardona said. "We're a year removed from reopening schools for the first time, without the ARPA funds, without the testing availability and without vaccines. Now that we have those tools, we owe it to our students to do everything we can, including mitigation strategies that we know work, to get our students safely in school."

Cardona said he has worked with governors and state education officials across the country to solve problems.

"The data is pretty clear: when you don't follow mitigation strategies, you're more likely to have disruptive learning," Cardona said. "To those folks that are making poor decisions, don't be the reason why schools close. Don't be the reason students don't have a season."

Emhoff said pain and heartache can be avoided by getting vaccinated.

"They're safe, they work, they're effective, they're free," Emhoff said. "You don't want to leave your loved ones wondering what could have been if you would have just gotten the shot."

Doug Emhoff, Second Gentleman Pool Reports of August 9, 2021 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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