Former Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer underscored the importance of having a “health-first” path to schools reopening and economic recovery, saying “we can’t have a robust economic recovery unless we get the health issue right.”

Steyer, who has since joined forces with California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), is the co-chair of a California task force on economic and jobs recovery.

“His goal from the beginning is to put health first,” Steyer said of Newsom. “We can’t have a robust economic recovery unless we get the health issue right. That’s got to be dealt with upfront so that we can have a jobs recovery and an economic recovery.”

California, where coronavirus cases are on the rise, has reported a total of over 660,000 COVID-19 cases and nearly 12,000 deaths.

Steyer, a billionaire philanthropist and political activist who ran an unsuccessful 2020 presidential bid, went on to emphasize the role that schools reopening play in boosting the economy.

“A big part of this if you think about the reopening of schools, that is a very fraught issue,” Steyer told uPolitics‘ founder Erik Meers. “It’s a fraught issue because of course we need young people going to school and learning – I mean otherwise there’s no chance for them to learn, to reach their potential.”

However, schools being closed means parents typically cannot work outside of their home full-time, Steyer noted.

“It’s also true that we can’t ask parents to go back to work full-time, if they’re in fact have to stay at home to take care of their children because the schools are closed,” he said. “So this is a very important issue for a variety of reasons, but we also know that in a time of covid, when social distancing is going to be critical, we’re probably not going to go back to school the way they went back to school in 2019.”

In describing how schools would operate differently Steyer said, “There are going to be cohorts and there are going to be… people are going to be going to school in a different way with social distancing in smaller groups and so there’s going to be a very high likelihood of a significant online component.”

He then criticized President Donald Trump‘s consistent urges to reopen schools at full capacity.

“Look, in the real world, we have to follow a health-first protocol-driven way of running our society,” Steyer said. “That’s what Gov. Newsom has been pushing really careful. Right now, the state is pushing as hard as possible for masking… the masks protect each other. We need social distancing to protect each other. We have to be responsible and that’s going to include in the way that we open schools or it’s going to have ramifications about a fast spread of this virus, which is then going to have ramifications in terms of businesses and what can remain open.”

Steyer then said California cannot skip to the final steps without getting “the health things right.”

“If we try and jump to the end without being responsible, without taking care, without masking, without testing, without doing all the things we know work, then even jumping to the end won’t work,” he said.

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