The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told members of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Tuesday they will be “part of the experiment” as the country gains further knowledge about the impact of the coronavirus.
— AFT (@AFTunion) July 29, 2020
During the organization’s biennial convention, currently held virtually, AFT President Randi Weingarten introduced Dr. Anthony Fauci with glowing praise, stating he was part of their family. Fauci said his daughter is a teacher and his wife a nurse – two fields that are represented by AFT.
Weingarten continued when she was a law student and not yet an “out lesbian,” AIDS had created fears among many of her friends.
“It was Dr. Fauci who understood something was going on with AIDS,” she said, adding that, in her view, whether it was AIDS years ago, or with the coronavirus now, “Dr. Fauci always tried to figure out the answers, but was always honest and transparent with the American people.”
Weingarten said it is Fauci who has “continued to work to focus the government’s response on what the science is and what’s safe.”
The union leader said she has received more questions for Fauci than for any other expert in various forums, and that “hundreds” of her members begin their questions by first expressing gratitude to him.
“They wanted to make sure you were safe, and that your family is safe,” as well, Weingarten told Fauci, who referred to the virtual forum as a “fireside chat.”
“We are still in an evolving situation, and, although we’ve learned a lot over the last five-and-a half to six months that we’ve been involved in this, there are still many things that have to remain unanswered,” Fauci said in his introductory comments, adding that one issue that is “evolving” is the question of children.
“We do know a lot, but we need to be humble enough, and transparent enough, and flexible enough to be able to change, when appropriate, the recommendations we make,” he stated.
When Weingarten finally got around to asking Fauci her first question – about conditions that need to be in place for children and adults to return to schools safely – the infectious disease specialist responded, “That’s the perfect example of there’s not a uni-dimensional answer to the question, because things are so different in different parts of the country.”
The default situation should be that we should try to the best of our ability to get the children back to school … for the psychological welfare of the children, sometimes even for the nutrition of the children … to the downstream unintended ripple effects that affect working families.
But, with that, is a big “however,” and the “however” is paramount … among all of this must be the safety, and the health, and the welfare of the children, of the teachers, of the school personnel, and, secondarily, and importantly, the family of those people.
— AFT (@AFTunion) July 29, 2020
Fauci reminded his listeners that 20% to 40% of coronavirus infections are asymptomatic. Young, healthy people who become infected are often asymptomatic, a situation, he continued, that necessitates knowing where in the community testing is available for children.
Secondly, Fauci said contact tracing should be available in the community should someone test positive for the infection in school.
He stated that while there is some research that shows children under ten years may not be as susceptible to the infection, his view is that the data is “not as solid as the data we would like to see.”
Fauci said the National Institutes for Health is currently engaged in a study to examine how frequently children are becoming infected with COVID-19 and how children may spread the infection to others.
“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,” he told the teachers’ union members, adding that because the schools shut down with the rest of the country in March, there is little data about how many children become infected in schools or how easily they spread the infection to others.
As Education Week reported, Weingarten had announced earlier on Tuesday that her union would consider numerous measures, including lawsuits and strikes, to ensure teachers did not return to school until they felt safe.