President Donald Trump urged schools across the nation to reopen “as soon as possible” even as the coronavirus continues to spread, saying infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci’s ongoing calls for caution were “not an acceptable answer.”
“He wants to play all sides of the equation,” the president said on Wednesday of Fauci, a leading figure on the White House’s coronavirus task force.
“I was surprised by his answer, actually,” Trump later added, “because you know it’s just to me, it’s not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools.”
Trump was referencing Fauci’s testimony to the Senate earlier this week, where the doctor warned lawmakers that reopening the country too soon could lead to “suffering and death that could be avoided.” When Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) pressed Fauci about his resistance to kickstarting the economy, the doctor directly pointed to the unknown effects infections of COVID-19 could have on children.
“I think we better be careful, if we are not cavalier, in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects,” Fauci told the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. “You’re right in the numbers that children, in general, do much, much better than adults and the elderly and particularly those with underlying conditions. But I am very careful and hopefully humble in knowing that I don’t know everything about this disease.”
But Trump appeared to reject that concern in remarks to reporters on Wednesday.
“I think they should open the schools, absolutely,” the president said, according to a pool report from the White House. “I think they should. It’s had very little impact on young people. And I think that if you’re an instructor, if you’re a teacher, a professor over a certain age, like let’s say 65, or maybe even if you want to be conservative, 60, perhaps you want to stay out for a little while longer.”
He continued: “It’s had very little impact on young people, and I would strongly say they should open. It’s up to the governors, it’s the governors’ choice, but their state is not open if the schools aren’t open.”
Trump has regularly pushed back against medical experts’ advice in his bid to see the country reopen and rein in some of the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic. The White House released a three-phase plan that governors could follow to reopen, but the president has cheered on states that have moved forward without meeting those guidelines.
A vaccine for the coronavirus is still many months away, top health officials say, and some states have begun investigating a string of rare illnesses they worry may be linked to the disease. New York state said this week it was probing a string of 102 cases of an unusual inflammatory syndrome in children that can cause life-threatening symptoms.
An official at the World Health Organization also stressed that any hope for a vaccine should be tempered, saying the unprecedented effort to develop one could turn out to be a “moonshot.”
COVID-19 is usually mild when children are infected, but the virus is still spreading throughout the country. More than 1.3 million people have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than 83,000 have died.