Dr. Fauci's New Warning for States Where the "Level of Virus Is So High"

The top health expert says local officials should consider case numbers before reopening these.

The prospect of sending kids back to school in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic has put a lot of pressure on parents—especially those in states where COVID-19 continues to surge. In recent weeks, the debate over what's best for both kids and for the country has become a heated one. But Anthony Fauci, MD, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), is issuing a new warning for hotspots that are rushing to reopen schools. "There may be some areas where the level of virus is so high that it would not be prudent to bring the children back to school," he said.

The Associated Press reports that in a video interview with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire, Fauci explained that while the nation's "default principle" should be to get kids back into the classroom, "to say that every child has to go back to school is not really realizing the fact that we have such a diversity of viral activity."

Instead of a blanket national policy, Fauci recommends using a case-by-case approach that takes local figures into consideration. "You can't make one statement about bringing children back to school in this country—it depends on where you are," he said.

The warning comes after the release of new studies that have found young children to be more likely to contract and spread the novel coronavirus than previously believed. For example, a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that young children may carry far more of the coronavirus than adults. The study compared 145 coronavirus patients in three age groups: young children under 5 years old, children between 5 and 17 years old, and adults 18 to 65 years old. The researchers found similar amounts of coronavirus in the respiratory tracts of older children and adults, but they found 10 to 100 times more particles in the respiratory tracts of children under 5.

Black girl on school campus wearing a mask for coronavirus protection.

And Fauci isn't the only health expert to propose a regional approach to reopening schools. Harvard Global Health Institute (HGHI) Director Ashish Jha, MD, recently wrote in an opinion piece for The Boston Globe that certain key indicators can be used to help guide policy.

"If you are in a red zone, there is no way to open schools safely," Jha says. (A red zone state, as defined by the HGHI, is an area with 25 or more new cases per 100,000 people per day). Even states within the "orange zone"—defined as having 10 to 24 new daily cases per 100,000 people—run the risk of quickly being forced to "close when teachers, staff, and possibly students get sick in large numbers," Jha wrote.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) school reopening guidelines, which were released on July 23, fall heavily in favor of getting kids back into classrooms under the guidance of local officials. "The health, safety, and wellbeing of students, teachers, staff, and their families is the most important consideration in determining whether school closure is a necessary step," the agency notes.

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However, in June, the CDC's journal Emerging Infectious Diseases published a study out of South Korea that examined how much children contribute to the spread of COVID-19. The researchers looked at 5,700 people with coronavirus symptoms and found that those between 10 and 19 years old were most likely to spread the coronavirus in their households. But kids younger than 10 years old were the least likely to spread the disease.

Another report from the CDC, published on July 31, about the spread of coronavirus at an overnight camp in Georgia, shows a similar picture in terms of children's susceptibility to COVID-19. Out of the nearly 600 campers (whose median age was 12), test results were available for 58 percent of the camp population. Of those tested, 260 were found to have coronavirus—a positive test rate of 76 percent. As a result, the CDC concluded that "contrary to early reports" suggesting that children were largely unaffected by the virus, kids may "play an important role in transmission." And for more news from Fauci, check out Dr. Fauci Says There's Now Evidence That Coronavirus Spreads This Way.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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