The question of whether to reopen schools in the fall has a “complicated answer” and the decision will depend on the coronavirus’ transmission in certain regions of the U.S., White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Friday.
“It has to be a bit of a — and I don’t mean lengthwise — a bit of a complicated answer, because the United States is a large country,” he said during an interview Friday on CNBC’s “Halftime Report.”
“When you’re talking about getting back to a degree of normality and school openings and things like that, it’s always related to the level of activity of the virus,” he said.
For instance, the level of virus transmission near cities such as Casper, Wyoming, will likely be much different from that of other metropolitan areas, he said, and the decision to reopen schools shouldn’t be a “uni-dimensional judgment.”
“There are varying degrees of infection activity depending upon the region, the state, the city, the town and the county,” he said.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the number of cases has plateaued and is coming down as a nation overall. However, there are certain regions where there are blips in infections.
“In general, things tend to be going in the right direction,” he said. “There are some areas that are doing better than others and others that are doing worse,” he said.
As states eye reopening schools and universities across the U.S. this fall, some health experts are concerned that gathering students could cause increased transmission of Covid-19, although younger people are considered to be at lower risk of serious illness.
New infections will begin to creep up in the fall and winter months, Fauci said. However, a second wave of infections later this year is preventable, he said.
“It’s in the way we and the efficiency and effectiveness in which we put the manpower, the systems, the tests to identify, isolate and contact trace, that will determine how successful we are in preventing that wave,” he said.
On Thursday, Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions during a hearing that college campuses across the country will see new coronavirus cases whenever they do reopen, regardless of what they do to prevent an outbreak.
Benjamin said that if a school is unable to conduct adequate testing, it “can’t function at all.”
“All the current evidence shows that we will continue to have undetected, broad community spread of Covid-19 and will continue to do so for many months to come,” he said.
In May, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, told CNBC that schools should try to have in-person classes in the fall if the spread of the coronavirus isn’t rampant.
”I do think we’re going to have to contend with Covid going into the fall, but it might not be in September,” said Gottlieb, a CNBC contributor who sits on the boards of Pfizer and biotech company Illumina.
“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,” he said.
— CNBC’s Kevin Stankiewicz contributed to this report.