Anthony Fauci Donald Trump Split
Trump says Fauci 'wants to play all sides of the equation'
02:20 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is the editor of the Coronavirus Daily Brief and author of the new book “Trump and His Generals: The Cost of Chaos.” The opinions expressed here are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.

CNN  — 

President Donald Trump has publicly disputed Dr. Anthony Fauci’s testimony on Tuesday before a US Senate committee about the dangers of reopening the United States prematurely – and in particular, Dr. Fauci’s warning about starting up schools too early. Fauci said that schools in certain localities might have to remain closed into the fall.

Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday, “I was surprised by his answer actually, because, you know, it’s just to me – it’s not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools.” He was implying, if not stating outright, that opening the economy can’t be done without reopening schools. Trump added that Fauci wanted “to play all sides of the equation.” It’s not clear what the president meant by this observation, but it sure doesn’t sound like a compliment.

It’s important to note that Fauci didn’t categorically oppose opening schools but urged caution at every step of reopening. When asked by Sen. Lamar Alexander whether he was saying students shouldn’t return to school at all until there is a vaccine, Fauci replied, “Absolutely not.”

So, is Trump or Fauci right when it comes to the risks of having kids go back to school in the fall?

This is gonna come as a shocker: The nation’s top infectious disease official has science on his side while the I-always-trust-my-gut president doesn’t. Since 1984, Fauci has served as the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for presidents going back to former President Ronald Reagan. Meanwhile, Trump has consistently presented quarter-baked notions about the pandemic, from saying it will all clear up with warmer weather to claiming months ago that cases will go down to zero to musing about taking disinfectants to ward off the virus (remarks he later tried to claim were a joke).

While Trump deemed Fauci’s answer “not acceptable,” he failed to offer any plan or explanation of his own about how Americans might be able to send their kids back to school safely any time soon. It’s not just that some 150 children (mostly in New York but some elsewhere, with a recent cluster also reported in Paris) have coronavirus-related multisystem inflammatory syndrome that can affect key organs such as the heart and kidneys.

The deeper issue is that children may carry the same viral load as adults even if they generally don’t come down with serious illnesses. That means that kids returning to schools could spread the coronavirus back into homes and communities filled with their teachers, school staff, family and friends who could be put in peril.

Science Magazine examined cases in China and found that “children were about a third as susceptible to coronavirus infection as adults were. But when schools were open…children had about three times as many contacts as adults, and three times as many opportunities to become infected…” The study found that keeping schools closed may reduce the surge in cases by 40 to 60%.

A study in Germany screened nearly 60,000 patients for Covid-19, of whom nearly 4,000 tested positive, and included patients between the ages of one to 100 years old. The study found that the levels of infection were similar across all ages. The lead researcher on the German study, Dr. Christian Drosten, said he posted his study on his lab’s website before a peer review because of the urgent questions around the opening of schools in Germany. Dr. Drosten said to the New York Times about the prospect of even considering reopening schools in the United States, “I think it’s way too early.”

Of course, keeping children out of school for long periods comes with its own costs such as forcing parents to stay at home so preventing many of them from working. This is especially difficult if they are living paycheck to paycheck in service sector jobs that require them to be in situ at their jobs. Then add to that the psychological effects on kids of being away from their school and friends for long periods of time.

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    President Trump’s objection to Fauci’s comments is one that many Americans might sympathize with – they are in an unsolvable bind and are truly suffering. But a real president would do more than just dispute or dismiss Fauci – he would try to alleviate some of that suffering while keeping as many Americans as possible safe. He might even work to publicize and endorse the much more detailed guidelines for what it would take to open up schools and other institutions in a prudent manner that were prepared by his own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, instead of letting his administration bury them in favor of the series of brief checklists (“decision trees”) the CDC released on Thursday.