Fact check: DeVos never said 'only' 0.02% of children will die if schools reopen in the fall
The claim: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said that “only” 0.02% of children are likely to die of coronavirus when they return to school in the fall.
Over the weekend, numerous posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram — including from the pages Liberal AF and Liberal by Definition — claimed that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made the comment that "only" 0.02% of schoolchildren would die when returning to classrooms in the fall.
Some attributed it to a press conference, and most of the posts calculated that “only” 0.02% of schoolchildren would equate to 14,740 fatalities.
More:'I wouldn’t trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child': Pressley slams DeVos on reopening schools
DeVos never said this
There is no record of such a comment from DeVos in her numerous public appearances and interviews in the last week.
Angela Morabito, the press secretary for the Department of Education, also told USA TODAY that DeVos made no such statement.
“The Secretary has never and would never say such a thing,” Morabito wrote in an email. “This is a total lie.”
“She would not be working to get kids back in school if it were unsafe,” Morabito added.
'Like a pawn in a political game': Contradictory school reopening plans leave teachers, parents reeling
DeVos claims schools can reopen 'safely'
Over the weekend, DeVos made multiple television appearances, where she touted the safety of reopening schools despite rising cases of COVID-19 in most states,
On Fox News Sunday, DeVos said there is “nothing in the data that suggests that kids being in school is in any way dangerous.”
“We know that children contract and have the virus at far lower incidence than any other part of the population, and we know that other countries around the world have reopened their schools and done so successfully,” DeVos said on Fox.
At the same time, no other country has had as many cases of coronavirus as the United States, according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard.
And on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, DeVos dodged questions about whether or not schools should follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but continued to push for schools to open in the fall.
What are the CDC school guidelines Trump wants changed amid COVID-19? These are the highlights.
“Kids need to get back to school, they need to get back in the classroom,” DeVos said on CNN. “Families need for kids to get back in the classroom. And it can be done safely.”
Despite the pressure from DeVos, some large school systems — like the Los Angeles Unified School District in California and Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland — have already announced they will begin the 2020-21 school year online.
Actual mortality estimates
At a press briefing on July 8, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx estimated the mortality rate for Americans under 25.
“We know the mortality rate in under 25 from the CDC data is less than 0.1%,” Birx said. “And so that has been holding.”
Even with an accurate mortality rate, though, it’d be impossible to say how many fatalities will occur if all 56.6 million American schoolchildren return to their classrooms in the fall.
The post also contained math errors — even if DeVos had said 0.02% of children will die, it’d would equal 11,320 fatalities, not 14,740.
Our rating: False
Based on our research, this claim is FALSE. While the education secretary has advocated for schools reopening in the fall, DeVos never said that “only” 0.02% of children are likely to die of COVID-10 if schools reopen, and the statistic itself is unfounded. But DeVos has advocated extensively for schools to reopen in the fall, despite record-setting case numbers in first half of July.
Our fact-check sources:
- Emailed Statement from Education Department Press Secretary Angela Morabito
- Associated Press, “Confirmed coronavirus cases are rising in 40 of 50 states”
- Fox News Sunday, “DeVos vows to have schools open in fall: 'Kids have got to get back to school'”
- CNN State of the Union, “Full interview with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos”
- Los Angeles Times, “L.A. Unified won't reopen campuses for start of school year”
- The Washington Post, “Montgomery County students could start classes remotely, return to campus gradually in the fall”
- The White House, “Press Briefing by Vice President Pence and Members of the Coronavirus Task Force | July 8, 2020”
- National Center for Educational Statistics, “Back to school statistics”
Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.
Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.