Dr. Anthony Fauci, the face of the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic over the last two-and-a-half years, deflected responsibility for school closures in an interview on Sunday while admitting to some negative effects for children.
The head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who is stepping down in December after five decades in the role, was asked by ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl whether it was a “mistake” for schools to be closed down as long as they were.
“I don’t want to use the word ‘mistake,’ Jon, because if I do, it gets taken out of the context that you’re asking me the question on,” Fauci said. “We should realize, and have realized, that there will be deleterious collateral consequences when you do something like that.”
Fauci went on to say the virus has killed nearly 1,500 children, but that he always emphasized health officials must do “everything we can to keep the schools open.”
“No one plays that clip. They always say ‘Fauci was responsible for closing schools.’ I had nothing to do [with it]. I mean, let’s get down to the facts,” Fauci told ABC News.
Numerous studies have shown that school closures contributed to unprecedented learning loss in K-12 students.
A Department of Education study released last month found that average reading scores for 9-year-olds fell five points and average math scores fell seven points in 2022 compared to scores in 2020. The decline in reading scores was the largest drop in over three decades, while the decline in math scores was the first on record.
High schoolers are increasingly unprepared for college. Average scores on the ACT college admissions test by the class of 2022 were 19.8 out of 36, the lowest score since 1991.
During the height of the pandemic, Fauci routinely emphasized the need for schools to stay open while hedging that it may be necessary for health officials to close down schools in areas with high infections.
In August 2020, Fauci told the Washington Post that the “default principle should be to try as best you can to get the children back to school,” but that local authorities in states with high infections “may want to pause before they start sending the kids back to school for a variety of reasons.”
It’s not the first time that Fauci has admitted to some mistakes by the government. He said at the Texas Tribune festival last month that “certain aspects” of the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic were “botched.”
“Although you have to be aware and not deny that there are deleterious consequences for prolonged periods of time for keeping children out of school, remember, the safety of children is also important,” Fauci said.