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Remarks by Vice President Pence at a Roundtable on Safely Reopening Schools

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Date:
Location: Indianapolis, IN

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, Governor. Thank you for those kind words, and thank you for your leadership. We wanted to be here in Indiana to make it very clear to the people all across this state that thanks to the extraordinary commitment of our healthcare workers, the cooperation of people all across Indiana, and your strong leadership, that -- that we are getting there.

And that I pledge to you, Governor: While -- while Indiana's overall positivity rate remains low -- below 10 percent -- there are areas of the state where we see rising cases. And -- and as I said to you, earlier today, I want to assure everyone here that we're going to stay with you every step of the way to make sure the state of Indiana has the resources, the supplies for your medical workers, the testing resources, the medicines and therapeutics, and -- and all the support that's needed as you continue to move the state forward, as you meet the needs of those that are impacted by the coronavirus, and as you continue to open up Indiana again, and -- as we'll talk about today -- as you continue to make plans to open up Indiana schools.

And I'd like to invite everyone to join me in thanking Governor Eric Holcomb for his strong leadership every step of the way. We are really grateful to you. (Applause.)

I also want to thank president Dan Elsener for welcoming us to Marian University. He is my friend of many years. And your tenure here at Marian University has -- has been transformational, and it's exciting to be on this campus, even in a challenging time.

And we thank you for your innovative leadership here and your personal commitment to have students back on campus and to -- and to begin to -- to begin to return -- return education to this great campus. And I don't think he got a round of applause, so join me in thanking president Dan Elsener, would you, please? (Applause.)

But I'm also pleased to have brought several members of our task force with us today. Dr. Deborah Birx has been my right arm since the President first asked me to lead the White House Coronavirus Task Force. And she has -- has been traveling with us as we've been visiting states, particularly in the Sun Belt, that have been impacted by rising cases. But I'm pleased to have her along today. Governor, I know she'll be meeting with members of your team later today to make sure that Indiana has all the resources they need. She'll be speaking in just a moment or two.

Also, I -- I want to thank the Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, who knows the state of Indiana well and has brought such innovative leadership. And as Congress now considers additional legislation to support efforts in this state and around the country to open up our schools again, I -- I want to thank the Secretary not only for being here, but for the leadership that you are providing for America's kids and America's higher education.

So, we're pleased to be here. And the three of us are here, Governor, to say to you and the people of Indiana: We're with you, and we're going to stay with you every step of the way until we reach that day when we put the coronavirus fully in the past.

Let me begin my -- my short comments by simply saying that while Indiana has -- has made steady progress in opening up again and the positivity rate of cases in this state remains below 10 percent, we still recognize the losses to families in this state. And let me just express my deepest sympathies to the more than 2,600 Hoosier families that have lost loved ones. You are on our hearts and in our prayers.

And to the -- to the more than 60,000 Hoosiers who have tested positive, I just pledge to you that we're going to continue to make sure that Indiana has the resources and -- and the equipment to render care -- the level of care that any one of us would want a family member to have.

To that end, Governor, as you know, I've been very pleased to see literally millions of masks and gloves and coveralls and face shields delivered to the state of Indiana. And, in addition to that, we'll also continue to work closely with you to make sure that -- that medicines like remdesivir are available to people impacted by the coronavirus. And there'll be another shipment coming to Indiana, I'm told, this coming weekend.

And, Governor, we're -- we're grateful for the way you and the hospital systems here in Indiana have kept us informed about where the needs are. And at this point, across the state of Indiana and even across states in the Sun Belt that have been impacted by rising cases, I'm pleased to report that the PPE supplies, the equipment all remain very strong. Hospital capacity remains very strong. But we're absolutely committed to work around the clock to ensure that remains the case here in Indiana and all across -- all across the country.

I'm also pleased with the -- and I want to express appreciation to the nearly 800 Indiana National Guard that you've stood up all along the way, and assure you that we'll continue to work to make sure that federal support is there for Indiana and all of our states under Title 32 to support the incredible work.

And let me say, I'm -- I'm partial to the Indiana National Guard. I know their capability and their quality. But to all men and women of the National Guard in this state, we thank you for your service during this challenging time.

Governor, I also want to thank you for the fact that you've helped facilitate businesses across the state access relief through the Paycheck Protection Program. And I'm informed, as of this morning, nearly -- nearly 80,000 loans have been issued to Hoosier businesses so they could keep people on the payroll during this challenging time. And that's -- that's a testament to your leadership.

I know the state of Indiana is -- is in stage 4.5 of reopening. And the people of Indiana's cooperation and their adherence to state, local guidance has made it possible for this state to be getting back on track, as you say, Governor. Three hundred and fifty-two thousand jobs added in May and June. And the Indy 500 is just around the corner.

So things are -- are getting better in this state and we're just determined to keep Indiana on that same trajectory.

I also want to say, as we talk about supplies, how grateful we are to General Motors and the plant in Kokomo and all the hardworking Hoosiers who have, at this point in time, produced more than 17,000 ventilators.

It's amazing to think that when -- Dr. Birx, when we started this effort with the White House Coronavirus Task Force, we had, I believe, less than 15,000 ventilators in the Strategic National Stockpile. But because of the public-private partnerships that President Trump initiated with companies like General Motors and GE and Ford, we literally have nearly 70,000 ventilators in the Strategic National Stockpile today. And I know the state of Indiana has strong reserves of that lifesaving equipment on hand.

But I do want to give -- give thanks again to all the great Hoosiers at GM in Kokomo for the great work that you've done creating that lifesaving equipment.

So we're -- you're opening up Indiana again. The economy is coming back. But, Governor, we want the people of Indiana to know that we fully support the decisions that you and your administration have made to keep Indiana opening up. We -- we encourage people all across the state to remember that we all have a role to play; that practicing personal hygiene, washing your hands, wearing a mask wherever state or local health officials indicate that it's appropriate or when social distancing is not possible is how we keep Indiana opening up, and it's how we open up Indiana schools.

So, Governor, I just -- I want everyone in this state to know the President and I and our entire team fully support your leadership and the steps that you've taken in Indiana to keep this state on the right track.

Today, we're here to talk about opening up our schools. And the truth is, to open up America again, we've got to open up America's schools. And, Governor, I want to thank you for -- for your strong leadership on K-12 education; the guidance that the state of Indiana has issued, that -- that your schools can open this fall.

I'm pleased to report to you that the CDC issued additional recommendations last night about both the importance of getting kids back into school and also guidance for parents and teachers, and the proper recommendations about testing.

But I think, Governor, you know -- and the people of Indiana, I believe, broadly know -- that opening up our schools again is the best thing for our kids. It's also the best thing for working families, and it's the best thing for moving this state and our country forward.

Opening up our schools also means opening up our universities. And to that end, I want to thank president Elsener and Marian for your plan to reopen this great campus. I know the fall semester is going to begin a week early on August 17th; the on-campus portion of the semester will end early on November the 24th. And you've put proper measures into place to put the health of your students first, the health of your faculty first, and kept in mind the community in which Marian University resides.

It's no real surprise that we've seen -- we've seen similar and creative innovation on universities around the state of Indiana. Purdue University has made plans to reopen; it's in the process. IU Bloomington has developed a plan for a mixture of in-person and online classes through November. And we've been working with both of those schools, as well as Notre Dame, to provide the resources, including the testing supplies that will make it possible for our universities to reopen.

So to those great schools, to Ball State University: We want to thank -- we want to thank all the -- all the educators in the state who are working hard to get our -- to get our young people back on campus.

Because we really do -- we really do know -- and Dr. Birx will probably reflect on this in a moment -- that it is -- that, first and foremost, it's important to remember that the risk of the coronavirus to healthy children is very low. It's also important to remember that there are real costs, far beyond academics, to our kids if they're not in school.

As the President reflected just from the podium at the White House yesterday, we -- we have confirmed of late the fact that -- that students fall behind dramatically in education. One study estimates that, due to school closures last spring, the average student is going to begin this year roughly 35 percent behind in reading, compared to a typical year, and 50 percent behind in math. In fact, the National Education Association just recently stated that online learning is no substitute for in-person learning. And when you -- when you factor the fact that -- that our kids could fall behind academically, it's also important to remember that there are real risks to our children's wellbeing.

Many -- many children across the country and families that -- where children have either learning disabilities or deal with emotional issues, they receive the counseling at the schools and, really, nowhere else. Special needs children -- I met with a mother of a wonderful Down's child just a few days ago in a similar forum, and she spoke to me about the hardship on that child of being away from their friends, away from their counselor, or away from the opportunities that they have at school.

And finally, there are tens of millions of American children who rely on school nutrition programs -- the lunch and breakfast programs are made available through the federal government. And so, for their personal wellbeing, for their counseling, for children facing either learning challenges or physical challenges, Governor, I think you know it's the best thing for our kids to get them back to school and get them back to school this fall.

It's one of the reasons our administration has been working to make that possible. Not only have we issued guidance all the way through last night, and since the -- since early in the month of March, CDC has been issuing detailed guidance about how we can safely reopen our schools.

But, Governor, my pledge to you is we're going to continue to work to make resources available, because we know there are -- there are additional costs associated with putting into practice the -- the kind of strategies that will allow us to safely reopen our schools on campuses like this one or in K-12 education.

I'm pleased to report that, up to this point, we've already secured, if memory serves, roughly $30 billion in funding for states -- the Department of Education -- half of which is available for higher education, half for K-12 education.

But as President Trump announced yesterday, we've actually requested the Congress, in this new legislation that's being debated as we speak, for another $105 billion to be made available to states for K-12 education and for higher education.

We understand that there are -- there are unique costs in implementing the safety measures that our schools are implementing today -- the -- acquiring personal protective equipment as appropriate or creating the environment of social distancing that's necessary. And our pledge to you, Governor, is we're going to work with leaders in Congress in both political parties to make sure that the state of Indiana and every state has the resources to safely reopen.

Our bottom line on our guidance and our resources is we -- we don't want finances or any recommendations to be a barrier to safely reopening schools. We truly do believe it's in the best interest of our kids, it's the best interest of working families, the best interest of our country to open up our schools again and open them up this fall.

In fact, it was Dr. Robert Redfield of the CDC who said we don't want CDC's guidance to be a barrier to schools opening; we want CDC's guidance to create the means and the recommendation where states and local communities can make the decision about how to best and safely and responsibly reopen our schools.

With that, I'm -- I'm happy to turn it over to the Secretary of Education. But let me just say to all the Hoosiers that are gathered here: It is great to be back home again. My wife Karen accompanied me today, and it's hard not to smile when you land in Indianapolis. And we appreciate the warm welcome and the time people have extended today.

We're proud of -- of the people of Indiana, the way that this state has responded throughout this pandemic. And my pledge to you is we're going to continue -- working with your Governor, working with health officials, working with education officials -- to make sure the state has everything that you need to meet the moment, provide the healthcare to those that are struggling, but also to open up the state and open up our schools again.

But let me respectfully remind my fellow Hoosiers that we all do have a role to play. So, keep heeding the guidance of state and local authorities. Wash your hands. Practice personal hygiene. Wear a mask whenever state and local officials determine it's appropriate or in any situation where you can't social distance.

And the truth is, wearing a mask is how we stay open, and wearing a mask is how we open up our schools. And I just want to urge every Hoosier to -- to heed that direction from your Governor and from all of us to do your part, to play your part. And we'll keep opening up Indiana and keep opening up America again.

And I -- I know that with your continued support and cooperation, with the strong leadership you have here -- and your Governor and his administration -- with the great and innovative education leadership that we have around the state, like here at Marian University, and with God's help, we will slow the spread, we will flatten the curve, we will save lives, and we will keep Indiana on track to open up again and to open up our schools again.

So thank you very much, and thank you for being here today. (Applause.)

(Roundtable discussion begins.)

(Roundtable discussion concludes.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, President Elsener. I'll let the governor have the last word, but I just want to thank this panel for the great insights. Dr. Turner, Ms. Rogers, your great leadership here -- the way that you're putting the safety of students first is really inspiring.

And I'm confident that it's -- it's inspiring other campuses around the state and around the country because I know Marian University made a decision early to find a way to move forward safely and responsibly. And our commitment is that we're -- we're going to pledge to work with you. You'll be meeting later today with Dr. Birx. And however we can be supportive in guidance or in resources, I want to pledge that to you.

And to Steve Downing, I love hearing the determination. President Elsener did not have to tell me that Marian University knows how to win; I keep track. (Laughter.) This is some great athletic tradition here, and, Steve, you provide tremendous leadership as the Director of Athletics. And thanks -- thanks for the way you spoke about calling on the student athletes to take responsibility for operating safely.

But I have to tell you, seeing -- seeing some baseball played last night, it's exciting for me to -- to hear plans about college sports coming back because it is such a big, big part of our national life, let alone the life of a university.

And let me say, with all due respect to all the others -- Erin and Ivie, I'm probably most impressed with your comments. And congratulations on your great success past, present, and future. But thanks also for the insight.

My big takeaway today is just hearing from these extraordinary students about how important it is to be together with your peers on campus. I thought you expressed that very well, Ivie, when you -- when you said it's not just about being among your friends, but as you prepare to practice medicine, you practice medicine as a team. And so being able to be on campus, to be with other students, to be in whatever the setting is, whether it's the classroom or in the hospital, that's an essential part of learning.

And I'm going to -- I'm going to carry that back as one more argument for how important it is that we get our students back on campuses in the colleges and universities of America.

And Erin -- Erin, your comments about being among friends and how that that challenges you to grow, whether it's running with others -- that apparently, they have a hard time keeping up with you -- but also it's the way that athletics and the competitive environment and the character you're learning at a place like Marian makes it possible for you to be more successful academically.

I think it's the reason why, as I said earlier, even the National Education Association essentially said distance learning cannot take the place of in-person learning. The American Academy of Pediatricians said that all considerations about education going forward should begin with the objective of restoring in-person learning.

And I think -- president Elsener, I think we heard in Erin and Ivie two great examples and two great voices about just what -- what our students get by being together and being in an environment.

I love that old proverb that "Iron sharpens iron." So one person sharpens another. And so I want to -- I really want to thank you for bringing those insights. And with that, I'll turn it back over to the governor with a word of appreciation.

Governor Holcomb, I will tell you, I want to join the Secretary of Education and Dr. Birx in just saying thank you for your leadership during a challenging time in the life of our state. This is home for the Pences, and to know that there is such a steady, effective, and compassionate leadership in the governor's office at such time as this is a great source of confidence for me and, I know, for people all across the state.

So, Governor Holcomb, thank you again for your leadership and for hosting this event today.

END


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