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Feb. 23 – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the choice of President Joe Biden to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, advised senators Tuesday that local authorities should make the decision to return to in-person classes during the COVID-19 pandemic.Answering questions on the first day of his two-day confirmation hearing, Becerra said his top priority as secretary of health and human services will be the pandemic.

“The COVID pandemic has killed 500,000 Americans, many of them alone without their families. Millions more have lost their jobs and healthcare. That is not the America my parents would believe possible,” he said in his opening statement prepared.”To meet this moment, we need strong federal leadership. That’s what President Biden is demonstrating. If I’m fortunate to be confirmed, I look forward to joining the president in this critical mission.

“Questioned by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, regarding federal social distance recommendations that could prevent the complete reopening of schools after the pandemic, Becerra said local authorities eventually need to make decisions on returning to in-person classes and mitigation measures.”Senator, you pose a question that’s on the mind of parents throughout the country every day,” he said. “The welfare of our families must be the primary concern.

“I will tell you what I believe is the best approach and that is to let science guide us and let the experts determine when it is safe, remembering that schools and education are a local issue.”To reduce crowding in classrooms, several districts around the country have adopted a “hybrid” combination of in-person and online learning.A study on Monday was released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an HHS agency, urging teachers to provide priority access to COVID-19 vaccines to restrict the spread of the virus in schools.

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The CDC refused, however, to make teacher vaccines a requirement for completely reopening schools.Biden said he wants most kindergarten students to return to in-person learning through eighth grade five days a week by late April.Of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill currently being negotiated in Congress, about $130 billion is aimed at helping schools reopen, including decreasing class sizes and adjusting social distance spaces, as well as enhancing ventilation and airflow in school buildings.

Ranking member Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., however, challenged the support of Becerra for “Medicare for all.” Burr said, “You’ve also been an advocate for more government interference,” “I’m not sold yet. I’m not sure you have the necessary experience or skills to do this job at this moment.”

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