Fauci Says Teachers Part of Schools Re-opening 'Experiment,' as Bill Gates Shares Trump's Stance

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House coronavirus task force member and top infectious disease expert, has said teachers are part of the "experiment" on what happens when schools are reopened amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

His remarks are the latest in the ongoing debate around getting children back to classrooms, which billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, whose foundation is helping fund coronavirus research, has also weighed in on.

Fauci made his comments in a virtual interview on Tuesday with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. Weingarten asked what Fauci thinks are the essential conditions for keeping children and adults safe when returning to in-person learning in the upcoming year.

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said there is not a unidimensional answer to that question, as situations vary across the country. Fauci said the "default situation" should be that children are sent back to school, both for their welfare and also to protect working parents from the "downstream ripple effects" of having children at home.

"But with that is a big 'however,'" said Fauci, stating that the safety, health and welfare of children, teachers and personnel is "paramount." There is no one size fits all solution, he said.

Fauci said answers to many questions regarding schools re-opening remain unknown. "In many respects, unfortunately, though this may sound a little scary and harsh, I don't mean it to be that way, is that you're going to be actually part of the experiment, of the learning curve, of what we need to know.

"Because remember early on when we shut down the country, as it were, the schools were shut down. So we don't know the full impact, we don't have the total database, of knowing what there is to expect."

His remarks come amid a debate about whether children should return to schools in the fall. As COVID-19 cases surge throughout the country, President Donald Trump has pushed for them to go back. The president has threatened to withhold federal assistance from institutions that refuse to hold in-person classes.

The plans have sparked anger from some groups, such as the Protect Our Public Schools non-profit who have used a mobile billboard to accuse Education Secretary Betsy DeVos of "gambling with our kids' lives."

An Education Department spokesperson told Newsweek the billboard was "a cheap ploy to get attention" and said it is "safe and necessary" for children to go back to schools.

Last week, Trump told a White House press briefing: "We cannot indefinitely stop 50 million American children from going to school—harming their mental, physical, and emotional development. Reopening our schools is also critical to ensuring that parents can go to work and provide for their families."

On Tuesday, Microsoft founder Bill Gates appeared to side with re-opening plans to some extent.

The billionaire philanthropist told CNBC's Squawk Box: "I'm a big believer that for young children, the benefits in almost every location—particularly if you can protect the teachers well—the benefits outweigh the costs."

But the situation changes with older children, he said. "As you get up to age, like, 13 and higher, then you'll have to look at your locale to decide what you'll do with high schools," he said.

"And if they're not in, then you have to put massive effort into trying to get there to be continued learning online."

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Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci testifies before the US Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine COVID-19, "focusing on lessons learned to prepare for the next pandemic", on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on June 23, 2020. KEVIN DIETSCH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images