The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will not revise guidelines for how schools should reopen in the autumn despite criticism from Donald Trump that its recommendations are too tough.
Robert Redfield, CDC director, told ABC News that the agency would provide additional information to help schools but would not change its guidance about social distancing, masks and other measures.
Mr Trump this week criticised the CDC for “very tough and expensive” guidelines. “While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!” he tweeted.
Asked on Thursday whether the CDC should be succumbing to political pressure, Mr Redfield attempted to evade the question, replying: “Our guidelines are our guidelines.”
Mr Redfield, who has previously come under criticism from Mr Trump, said the CDC would provide “additional reference documents” to help parents and teachers. At the same time, he stressed that the recommendations were not mandatory, adding that he would be sad if communities used them as a reason not to reopen schools.
Robert Redfield, CDC director © Bloomberg
The debate over whether schools can safely reopen comes as parts of the US see a renewed surge in Covid-19 cases.
It also echoes a debate in the spring when Mr Trump pushed states to ease lockdowns because he was concerned that the economic slowdown would impact on his re-election odds in November. Several of the states that reopened their economies earlier are seeing a spike in new cases.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the US surpassed 3m on Wednesday, about one-quarter of the worldwide total.
Propelled by a surge in infections over the past month across states in the west and south, the rise in new cases has topped 50,000 nearly every day so far in July. More than 62,000 new cases were confirmed on Wednesday, a single-day record.
Anthony Fauci, a leading member of the White House coronavirus task force, last week said the US was failing to adequately tackle the pandemic and warned that daily cases could rise to 100,000.
The rising number of cases has prompted some states, including Texas, Florida and Arizona, to reverse some reopening plans by ordering bars to close, while California has ordered some rollbacks in badly affected regions such as Los Angeles county.
Mr Trump has said Democrats want to keep schools closed to hurt his re-election campaign. This week, he threatened to cut off funding to schools unless they reopened. But his threat was seen as hollow since the federal government has little power over local school funding.
Earlier this year, Mr Trump also threatened to force governors to reopen their economies, even though he had no authority to do so.
A senior US official said the White House was not pressing the CDC. He said the agency had been planning to produce additional information, before Mr Trump tweeted his concerns.
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi