Fauci on Going Back to School: It Depends on Where You Live

July 25, 2020
John Parkinson

The NIAID director offered nuanced advice on kids going back to school, getting to a baseline in the US, and how to prepare for the upcoming influenza season combined with COVID-19.

In a wide-ranging interview conducted earlier today, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), sat down to a video interview with the Washington Post where he touched upon professional sports, how the US shut down versus Europe, the upcoming school openings, vaccine prognostications, and concerns about the upcoming influenza season combined with COVID-19.

Fauci stressed he wanted to see children back in schools, but he also was very clear to go by the guidance of the local school district and how bad the virus was in that area.

“It depends on where you are,” Fauci stated. "We live in a very large country that is geographically and demographically diverse and certainly different in the extent to which there is different COVID activity. So, If you live in a county or a place where there is very little activity, then there might be very little you have to do [to] send the children back to school. If you are in an area where there is viral activity, you want to look at what the schools can do and their planning."

He brought up the CDC’s guidelines for opening up schools, and he stressed that the children and teachers’ safety were paramount.

“I would go with the recommendations of the school district in which I’m in.”

He was asked about the combination of the upcoming influenza season with COVID-19. “If we get anything that resembles a typical influenza season, there will be complications and confounding," Fauci said. "You have two cocirculating respiratory diseases and it makes it more complicated.”

He stressed that getting a vaccination for influenza, could possibly mitigate 1 of the 2 viruses.

In terms of a vaccine, he still believed that by the end of this year or early next year that there could be a safe and efficacious vaccine approved. However, he did make the distinction of the wide availability of vaccines for the public, and he said that could be “much deeper into 2021.”

He also explained the difference in how the US shut down versus Europe. "If you look at the plotting of the curve for Europe they went way up," Fauci stated. "And they came back down truly to a baseline…the issue with us when we shut down, in contrast to the European Union, we shut down about 50% or so in reality, whereas in Europe they shut down 90 plus percent.”

He spoke of the states and areas of the US that have “gotten into trouble.” He said that with those states to reevaluate where they are and see if they need to move back into a phase laid out by the federal guidelines that slows down their reopening plans so they can begin to control the surging number of cases they are witnessing.

“You don’t have to go back all the way to a shutdown but you certainly have to call a pause or maybe even a backing up a bit,” Fauci said.

He also cautioned the other states who were not witnessing a surge to take note.

“Everybody should be trying to reopen America again, but do it in a way that is in accordance with the guidelines,” Fauci said.

When asked if he would go back on any mistakes in his advice, he said that when counseling the country, he uses whatever the data suggests at that point. He used the example of face masks and how initially back in the spring the guidance was to not wear face masks. Initially, he and other health officials were worried about the supply of the PPE for health care workers. And he said they “had no idea” how the virus circulated the way it did then. He explained that the number of asymptomatic people—20% to 40%—has prompted his guidance on this topic to change completely.