WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday criticized congressional testimony delivered a day earlier by Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who had warned against reopening the country too quickly and stressed the unknown effects the coronavirus could have on children returning to school.
“I was surprised by his answer,” Trump told reporters who had gathered in the Cabinet Room for the president’s meeting with the governors of Colorado and North Dakota. “To me it’s not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools.”
The president’s desire to reopen schools and businesses in order to bring back the economy has often led to public clashes over the guidance provided by Fauci, who has warned that taking a cavalier attitude toward reopening the country could invite unnecessary suffering caused by a virus scientists are still struggling to understand. He reiterated that position Tuesday in testimony before a Senate committee.
“He wants to play all sides of the equation,” Trump said Wednesday, before bragging that the economy next year would be “phenomenal.”
Fauci also told the Senate panel that a vaccine for the coronavirus would almost certainly not be ready in time for the new school year, and warned of the dangers of the virus to children.
“I think we better be careful, if we are not cavalier, in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects,” Fauci said. “You’re right in the numbers that children in general do much, much better than adults and the elderly and particularly those with underlying conditions. But I am very careful, and hopefully humble in knowing that I don’t know everything about this disease. And that’s why I’m very reserved in making broad predictions.”
Fauci has increasingly become a target of critics who see him as undermining the president’s efforts to open up the country and restore the economy and as exaggerating the effects of the pandemic. A month ago, Trump made headlines for sharing a tweet with the hashtag “#FireFauci” after a series of reports detailed the president’s slow response to the threat of the virus.
The president’s comments Wednesday were an even more direct show of disapproval. And they came as health officials in New York were investigating more than 100 cases of a rare and dangerous inflammatory syndrome that afflicts children and appears to be connected to the virus.
“Now when you have an incident, 1 out of a million, 1 out of 500,000, will something happen? Perhaps,” Trump said, minimizing the risk to children of returning to school. “But you can be driving to school and some bad things can happen, too.”
Trump added: “This is a disease that attacks age and it attacks health and if you have a heart problem, if you have diabetes, if you’re a certain age, it’s certainly much more dangerous. But with the young children, I mean, and students, it is really just take a look at the statistics, it is pretty amazing.”
Medical experts who are beginning to learn more about how the virus affects children have said it is an oversimplification to consider them immune.