White House Compares Teachers to Meat Packers in Defense of Opening Schools Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany compared teachers to meatpackers while defending the Trump Administration's new guidance that declares teachers are "critical infrastructure workers." While on Fox News Thursday, McEnany noted that the media, meat packers and law enforcement officers continued working during the coronavirus pandemic and teachers should as well because "America's children must come first." Meatpacking plants were at the center of some of the worst outbreaks in the early days of the pandemic.

President Donald Trump's administration believes "teachers are essential workers," McEnany told Fox News' Shannon Bream on Thursday. "The media never stopped working during this pandemic. Our meatpackers didn't stop working during this pandemic. Our law enforcement didn't stop working during this pandemic — nor should our teachers, because America's children must come first." Bream also asked McEnany if the president could commit to having the testing capacity for children before school starts. McEnany did not directly answer that question, and instead told Bream, "Our testing is being surged to vulnerable communities, our nursing homes, that has to be the priority."

Trump has pushed for schools and colleges to reopen this fall, even while coronavirus cases and deaths continue to climb in the U.S. However, McEnany noted that Trump has "been clear" that if a teacher in a "vulnerable community" should not go back to work. "But those who can go back, should. And we've gotta protect our children, and that means getting them back to school," she added.

Earlier this week, the administration designated teachers as "essential workers." The guidance is voluntary, but it shows how aggressive the president's team is in its push to get children back to school. The guidance even asks teachers to go back to work after potential exposure to the virus if they are asymptomatic. Vice President Mike Pence told Fox Business there was "no mandate" in the new guidance. "What that is, is when you're declared an essential it means you're going to be prioritized for things like [personal protective equipment] and support," Pence said. "But we want to get our kids back to school but we also want our teachers to know that we're going to make the resources available so that their schools can be a safe environment."

Teachers unions have expressed concerns about Trump's "essential workers" designation. "If the president really saw us as essential, he'd act like it," American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said in a statement earlier this week. "Teachers are and always have been essential workers — but not essential enough, it seems, for the Trump administration to commit the resources necessary to keep them safe in the classroom."