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Trump pushes universities to continue reopening amid a string of campus coronavirus outbreaks

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020.

Jim Lo Scalzo | EPA | Bloomberg | Getty Images

President Donald Trump urged universities to continue reopening their campuses on Wednesday, even as some institutions across the country report clusters of coronavirus outbreaks among their students. 

“We have learned one thing, there’s nothing like campus there’s nothing like being with a teacher as opposed to being on a computer board,” Trump said during a White House press briefing. “The iPads are wonderful but you’re not going to learn the same way as being there.” 

The president’s remarks come as some universities have reported hundreds of new Covid-19 cases as students return to campus for the fall semester.

“For older people and individuals with underlying conditions, the China virus is very dangerous,” Trump said, using a racist slur to describe Covid-19. “But for university students the likelihood of severe illness is less than or equal to the risk of a seasonal flu.”

Universities that laid out careful strategies to keep students and staff safe while reopening for the fall semester are rethinking those plans after several outbreaks quickly broke out soon after students returned to campus. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill decided Monday to halt in-person classes for the fall, only a week after they began, citing a spike in infections. Remote instruction begins Wednesday. 

The University of Notre Dame on Tuesday announced it will pause in-person undergraduate classes for at least two weeks, following a steep rise in cases that officials linked to off-campus parties just one week into the fall semester. Less than an hour later, Michigan State University said it was pivoting to an online-only fall for undergrads before they arrive on campus, telling students who planned to live in dorms to stay home. 

“Instead of saving lives the decision to close universities could cost lives. It is significantly safer for  students to live with other young people than to go home and spread the virus to older Americans,” Trump said. The coronavirus is far more deadly for older people and those with underlying conditions.

Roughly 80% of fatalities in the U.S. from Feb.12 to May 18 were 65 years or older, according to a July report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency also said in June that hospitalization rate for people who test positive for the coronavirus in their 20s is under 4%. 

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