Fauci says decision on school openings should be left to local officials

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 30, 2020. (REUTERS)

Top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci on Tuesday said decisions on whether to open schools in U.S. regions hit hard by the fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak should be left to local officials.

"We should try, as the default, to get the kids to stay in school," Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at an event hosted by Georgetown University.

"If you're in the part of a country where the dynamics of the outbreak are really minimal, if at all, then there's no problem at all in getting back. If you're in a situation where you're in outbreak mode, then you leave it up to the local individuals," he said.

Facing a battered economy as he seeks re-election in November, President Donald Trump has pressured states to reopen shuttered businesses and schools. Last week, he said the Treasury Department would re-examine schools' tax-exempt status and their federal funding if they did not resume in-person classes.

It is not clear how Treasury could restrict funds. Most primary and secondary school funding is local.

With the new school year fast approaching, some U.S. districts have announced plans to reopen for students who want to attend in-person class, while others will offer only online instruction or a mix of classroom and remote learning.

The United States has reported record numbers of new cases in recent days, with much of the surge coming from Texas, California, Florida and Arizona.

Fauci said he expects deaths to rise along with hospitalizations in those regions, but because the infections are affecting younger people than previous surges, the death rate should remain below the earlier peak.

"We will likely see some more deaths as people get hospitalized, but I doubt that it's going to go up to the extent that we've seen before," he said.

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