Dr. Fauci on children returning to school, masks, vaccine

Published: Aug. 3, 2020 at 7:01 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 3, 2020 at 7:39 PM EDT
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LEBANON, N.H. (WCAX) - Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease specialist, says there should not be a one-size-fits-all model for kids returning to school.

Fauci, of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, weighed in on a wide range of coronavirus issues during a webinar Monday hosted by the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

Fauci was also asked questions about masks, viral transmission among kids, the region's aging and vulnerable population and a potential vaccine.

Phase three vaccine trials are currently underway and Fauci says he's cautiously optimistic that one could be available by late fall or early winter.

Of course, kids will likely be back in school by then. Fauci says the decision to reopen or close schools will depend on the circumstances on the ground.

"I think to say every child has to go back to school is not really realizing the fact that we have such a diversity of viral activity. There may some sections of the country where the viral activity is so low you don't have to do anything different, you can just send the children back to school," Fauci said.

Our Adam Sullivan was invited to join that webinar and has details and reaction.

The former dean of the medical school at Dartmouth actually taught Fauci decades ago. Of course, Fauci is now the country's most well-known infectious disease specialist.

"Wearing a mask, if you don't take the infection seriously, is a tough one to sell," Fauci said.

But Fauci says everyone should be taking the virus seriously.

The webinar comes as schools across the region are planning their reopening protocols. Speaking broadly, Fauci says he supports kids going back to school for two main reasons.

"A, the detrimental effects on children who are kept out of school, psychological and otherwise, and B, the downstream unintended ripple effects that go beyond the children and go to the parents who may need to interrupt their work," he said.

But Fauci says hot spots in some locations across the country will make reopening classrooms difficult.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock CEO Dr. Joanne Conroy told us after the webinar that the region's low infection rate is a good case for in-person learning.

"And frankly, you are only five once and there is a lot of socialization that is really important that happens at school. So we have to weigh the importance of getting kids back to social but also keeping them safe," Conroy said.

COVID-19 cases have been spiking in certain areas. Fauci told the medical center panelists the widespread nature of the pandemic makes it even more difficult to control.

"Nursing home outbreaks, which is confined, you know what it is. Prison outbreaks, confined, you know what it is. This is insidious, defuse community spread," Fauci said.

But he says there is potentially good news regarding a vaccine; the trials that are currently underway are showing promise. DHMC Epidemiologist Dr. Antonia Altomare says just having an effective vaccine is only a start.

"I think the bigger hurdle we are going to have once there is a vaccine available is really getting everyone vaccinated. We have had a lot of people sick in our country but it is nowhere near what we would need for natural immunity. So, I think the only thing to bolster that is a vaccine," Altomare said.

Fauci says people will still need to practice social distancing, good hand-washing and wear masks.

Looking forward, experts say the coronavirus will be in our lives, at some level, for a while.

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