The latest battle between President Donald Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci, like previous ones, boils down to ego-based conjecture versus science and fact. Fauci, an adviser to Trump and the nation's top infectious disease expert, argues it would be reckless to rush children back into classrooms in the fall before doctors have a better grasp of the dangers. Trump, whose training in medicine and epidemiology is exactly zero, says it's time to get back to class.
Americans can disagree on shutdown measures, but some things aren't debatable: Kids might be more resilient after being exposed to the virus, but they are by no means immune. A new, lethal contagion is spreading among kids that appears to be linked to the coronavirus. And even if kids don't get sick from coronavirus exposure, their immersion in classrooms increases the likelihood that they could become super-carriers, spreading the disease to their teachers, bus drivers and parents.
In the battle between Fauci's voice of caution versus Trump's call for throwing caution to the wind, we'll stick with the guy who actually knows what he's talking about.
It was horribly disruptive to students and their families to have to close school these past months — which, remember, might not have been necessary had the Trump administration responded earlier to the pandemic with widespread testing and tracing. The only thing worse than what America's school children have endured lately would be to risk their deaths, or the deaths of their parents and others they come in contact with.
That's essentially what Fauci told a Senate hearing Tuesday when he suggested caution in deciding whether and how to resume classes in the fall. As he stressed later, he didn't say no schools anywhere should reopen, just that officials can't count on a vaccine by fall. So reopening decisions would have to be based on whether a given region is experiencing outbreaks.
It's hard to imagine a more reasonable assessment, yet it set off Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., himself a physician and COVID-19 survivor. He bristled at Fauci's sober call for caution and scolded that he's not the "end-all" authority on how to reopen the country — a needlessly confrontational comment that forced Fauci to point out that he'd never claimed such a status.
Trump, as he tends to do, worsened the conflict, saying the next day that Fauci's medically sound testimony was "not an acceptable answer" and that "schools are going to reopen."
In fact, Trump doesn't have the authority to order school districts or states to resume classes. Those decisions will be made by those states and districts. They should be based first and foremost on student safety as determined by sound medical data on the ground — not the blanket pronouncements of a president whose irresponsible leadership is becoming more dangerous by the day.
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