Pence urges school reopening in Louisiana amid virus surge

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Vice President Pence participates in a roundtable discussion at LSU's Tiger Stadium with higher education leaders focusing on fall reopening plans and university sports programs. Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

BATON ROUGE, La. – Vice President Mike Pence insisted Tuesday the country's schools should reopen to in-person instruction for students, making the point in Louisiana as the state has reemerged as one of the nation's hot spots for the coronavirus only months after signs pointed to a successful outbreak response.

Appearing at Louisiana State University, the Republican vice president described the nation as “in a much better position today to deal with the pandemic” even as virus cases surge across much of the country. He and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called for students at every level from elementary school through college to return to classrooms, with Pence calling that critical to reopening the country.

“It's the right thing to do for our children. It's also the right thing to do for families,” Pence said at Tiger Stadium, where he met with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, members of the congressional delegation and state higher education officials.

Louisiana’s confirmed coronavirus caseload is among the fastest growing per capita across the country, and its infection and hospitalization rates are surging, worrying public health experts in a state that previously seemed to be successfully flattening the curve of infections.

Edwards has been the rare Democratic leader who has refused to criticize President Donald Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic, instead repeatedly thanking federal officials for their “partnership” in supplying the state with medical equipment and testing supplies.

In return, Pence complimented Edwards' response, said he backed the governor's decision to pause further reopening of businesses and suggested residents should comply with the statewide mask mandate Edwards enacted Monday.

“We support Gov. John Bel Edwards and his health officials’ decisions, and we encourage people to heed the guidance of state and local authorities,” the vice president said. “And with regard to wearing a mask, it’s just always a good idea.”

While in Louisiana, the Trump administration announced plans to provide point of care testing in nursing homes across the country, to help ease the burden on overwhelmed testing sites and avoid backlogged results. Officials said the tests will start rolling out next week at 2,000 nursing homes, including 17 in Baton Rouge.