As states begin to look toward reopening businesses and more that have been shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci urged caution in reopening schools in the fall while speaking Tuesday at a U.S. Senate hearing. The nation's leading infectious disease expert and longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases warned that it's unlikely a vaccine or surefire treatment would be available before the start of the new school year, meaning homeschooling and remote learning could very well carry on for the foreseeable future.
Speaking virtually before members of the Senate on May 12, Fauci said it was too ambitious to hope students could return to school in the fall safely vaccinated against coronavirus. "The idea of having treatments available or a vaccine to facilitate reentry of students into the fall term would be something that would be a bit of a bridge too far," Fauci told Sen. Lamar Alexander when asked how university heads and school principals could persuade students via treatments and vaccines that it was safe to return to school. "The drug that has shown some degree of efficacy was modest and was in hospitalized patients not yet or maybe ever to be used either yet as prophylactic or treatment."
Fauci stressed that parents and students shouldn't assume there will be a vaccine ready to guarantee a normal return to school in the fall. "If this were a situation where we had a vaccine, that would really be the end of that issue in a positive way," Fauci said. "But ... even at the top speed we're going, we don't see a vaccine playing in the ability of individuals to get back to school this term."
Later in the hearing, Sen. Rand Paul pushed back on Fauci's recommendations, claiming that "outside of New England we've had a relatively benign course for this virus nationwide." (It's worth mentioning that New York, largely considered to be the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, is not a part on New England. Neither are New Jersey, Illinois, and California which have the second, third, and fifth highest number of cases in the country, respectively, according to data from The New York Times.)
The Kentucky senator then went on to say it was time officials looked at getting kids back into school. Citing studies which have shown children are less likely to experience severe illness or death as a result of COVID-19, Paul said he felt it would be a "huge mistake if we don't open schools in the fall."
However, Fauci again urged senators to err on the side of caution, noting that doctors and public health officials are still learning about the novel coronavirus and its impacts of children:
We don't know everything about this virus and we really better be careful, particularly when it comes to children because the more and more we learn, we're seeing things about what this virus can do that we didn't see in the studies from China or in Europe. For example, right now, there are children presenting with COVID-19 who actually have a very strange inflammatory syndrome, very similar to Kawasaki syndrome.
More than 50 children have been diagnosed with pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome, a rare COVID-related illness with symptoms similar to Kawasaki syndrome and toxic shock syndrome, in New York, according to NBC News. Cases of the mysterious COVID-related condition have also cropped up in children in Illinois and California.
Instead, Fauci urged Paul and other senators pushing for a quick return to school not to assume children were completely immune to coronavirus. "I think we better be careful [that] we are not cavalier in thinking that children are completely immune from the deleterious effects," he said.
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