Schools should try to open in fall if virus isn’t rampant

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Schools should try to have in-person classes in the fall if the spread of the coronavirus isn’t rampant, Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Thursday. 

 “I do think we’re going to have to contend with Covid going into the fall, but it might not be in September,” Gottlieb said on “Squawk Box.” “It might occur later into the fall, and we should at least make an attempt to open the schools if this isn’t spreading widely.” 

Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, stressed that decisions on welcoming students back to classrooms will have to be made locally, depending on the scale of Covid-19 outbreaks in states and communities. 

“If the disease is epidemic within a state or a local community, the decision’s probably going to be made to close the schools. I don’t think this is a national-level decision at this point,” he said. 

Gottlieb’s comments came one day after President Donald Trump pushed back against the Senate testimony of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.

Fauci on Tuesday warned against prematurely pulling back restrictions meant to slow the spread of Covid-19. He also said he did not think a vaccine or effective therapeutic would be available by the fall to ensure in-person classes could safely be held. Instead, Fauci said, the U.S. must wait and see “exactly where we will be in the dynamics of the outbreak” before decisions are made. 

Trump said he was “surprised” by those aspects of Fauci’s testimony. “To me it’s not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools,” he added. 

Schools across the U.S. are grappling with the question of how, or whether, in-person classes can be held in the fall. In addition to the life-and-death implications, the decision also carries economic impacts for parents and caregivers who work during the day. 

Gottlieb, a CNBC contributor who sits on the boards of Pfizer and biotech company Illumina, echoed Fauci’s comments on the availability of a coronavirus vaccine, saying it “won’t be available in time for the fall to start mass inoculating the population.” Pfizer is developing a vaccine. 

“But I think it’s too early to say whether or not we are going to be able to open the schools in the fall. We will have to see what happens in July and August,” he said. 

Older adults and people who have underlying medical conditions have the highest risk of becoming severely ill from Covid-19. But the way in which the virus impacts children is receiving new attention in recent days, following reports of an inflammatory disease in kids that is possibly associated with Covid-19. Officials in New York are investigating more than 100 cases. 

Gottlieb said the decision to close schools this spring was informed by studies that show the scope of a seasonal influenza epidemic is significantly reduced when schools are shut down. “We don’t know that that’s true for coronavirus because we don’t understand how much coronavirus is spread among children,” he said. 

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