During the exchange about schools, Paul, an ophthalmologist, offered his opinion on medical details, disagreeing with many researchers on the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 80,000 Americans in the past few months. Paul is the only senator to contract covid-19, the disease the virus causes, but has since recovered.
Paul said that U.S. schools — virtually all of which closed in the spring when the coronavirus began to spread around this country — should open in the fall, and that it would be “ridiculous” if they don’t. He challenged predictions by Fauci and other experts in infectious diseases that there will be a spike in cases when America starts to reopen.
He also raised the issue of how the disease affects children. The number of coronavirus-related deaths among children has been extremely low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though experts do not know why children are not affected as much as adults. A preliminary ongoing count of coronavirus deaths by the CDC shows that between Feb. 1 and May 6, four children under the age of 1 died of the coronavirus; two children between the ages of 1 and 4 died; four children between the ages of 5 and 14 died; and 48 people between the ages of 15 and 24 died. (The data did not specify how many of those 48 were 18 or under.)
Experts are investigating a dangerous inflammatory syndrome in young people that may be related to covid-19. In New York alone, at least 93 children have been diagnosed with it, and three are known to have died as a result.
“Shouldn’t we at least be discussing what the mortality of children is?” Paul asked Fauci and then said that the rate of deaths among children ages 0 to 18 who have contracted the disease “approaches zero.”
Fauci responded: “I think we better be careful that we’re not cavalier, in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects.”
He also said, “We don’t know everything about this virus, and we really better be very careful particularly when it comes to children, because the more and more we learn, we’re seeing things about what this virus can do that we didn’t see from the studies in China or in Europe.”
Actually, school district leaders are not only concerned about the spread of the coronavirus among children who return to school. They are also concerned about teachers and other adults, some of whom may be at risk because of preexisting conditions, who could contract the virus from a child who is infected but has no symptoms.
Paul noted that some rural states such as Kentucky, which he represents, never had “pandemic levels” of the virus.
“It’s not to say this isn’t deadly, but really, outside of New England, we’ve had a relatively benign course for this virus nationwide,” Paul said.
Actually, New York, which is not in New England, has had the most deaths. New Jersey, also not in New England, is No. 2. And it’s hard to think that Ilinois, California and other states with numerous coronavirus deaths would characterize their experience with covid-19 as relatively benign.
Paul continued: “And I think the one-size-fits-all, that we’re going to have a national strategy and nobody is going to go to school, is kind of ridiculous. We really ought to be doing it school district by school district, and the power needs to be dispersed because people make wrong predictions.”
Actually, districts around the United States are devising their own plans to reopen schools, based on state plans and depending on the ferocity of the covid-19 outbreak in the area, the ability to rearrange school spaces for social distancing and other factors. No education official, union leader or school principal has been quoted as telling districts that they have to follow a national reopening strategy.
A number of polls of Americans taken in April and one published in the Financial Times in May, show that a majority trust their governors more than the federal government on the pandemic response.
I asked Paul’s Senate office why he said that in the hearing, and the emailed reply from an unnamed spokesman said: “He thinks that because a lot of people are deferring to Washington, instead of their own state and local governments.”
Paul continued: “If we keep kids out of school for another year, what’s going to happen is that poor and underprivileged kids who don’t have a parent that’s able to teach them at home are not going to learn for a full year. … I think it’s a huge mistake if we don’t open the schools in the fall.”
When Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) asked Fauci whether students should be kept out of school, perhaps for as long as a year, Fauci said: “I don’t have an easy answer to that. I just don’t. You have to see on a step-by-step basis as we get into a period of time in the fall about reopening the schools.”