Fauci: 'It's safe enough to get those kids back to school'

As schools across the country are set to resume in-person classes after the winter break, Dr. Anthony Fauci is urging parents to vaccinate children over 5 to add an additional level of safety.

"I plead with parents to please seriously consider vaccinating your children," Fauci, President Biden's chief medical adviser, said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

Most schools had resumed at least a hybrid schedule of in-person classes last fall, but the rise of the hyper-contagious Omicron variant has cast doubt in some districts about the upcoming term.

Though the Omicron variant has generally led to milder symptoms than past coronavirus waves have, its transmissibility has led to a massive spike in cases that threatens to strain the U.S. hospital system. People who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 remain particularly vulnerable to infection.

Schools are approaching the Omicron wave with a patchwork of policies, including mask mandates and "test-to-stay" guidelines, in which students are required to test negative after being exposed to positive COVID cases but are no longer forced to quarantine at home.

"I think [with] all of those things put together, it's safe enough to get those kids back to school, balanced against the deleterious effects of keeping them out," Fauci said Sunday.

Parents wait outside of a school to pick up children.
Parents pick up their children while wearing masks outside of P.S. 64 in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan. (Brittainy Newman/AP)

Other school districts, including several in New Jersey, are returning from winter break to remote learning. Some teachers’ union officials have also criticized their districts’ safety plans as insufficient amid the Omicron case spike.

But a return to remote learning carries its own risks. Studies have found that virtual schooling is significantly damaging to test scores and learning. And many working parents struggle to find affordable care for children who are too young to be left home alone during the day.

"We've done the balance so many times over the last year about the deleterious effects of keeping children out of physical presence in the school. And it's very clear that there are some really serious effects about that," Fauci told ABC.

Many of the largest school districts in the country, including New York and Chicago, have announced that they will resume in-person classes on Monday.

“I feel very comfortable with us starting on the 3rd,” Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said last week, adding: “We are going to respond to the data.”

ABC host George Stephanopoulos interviews Dr. Anthony Fauci. (Screenshot: Twitter/@ThisWeekABC)
ABC host George Stephanopoulos interviews Dr. Anthony Fauci. (Screenshot: Twitter/@ThisWeekABC)

“Your children are safer in school; the numbers speak for themselves,” New York Mayor Eric Adams said at a press conference announcing both in-person learning and an expansion of the school testing regime. At the same event, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul called remote learning a “failed experiment.”

The Biden administration is backing that approach, no doubt aware that many frustrated parents are not willing to accept widespread school closures as the pandemic nears its second year.

“New York sets an example of how it’s all hands on deck. We need to make sure our students have access to in-person learning full-time. That’s where they learn best,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said last week on MSNBC.

“I think that they’ve suffered enough over the past year and a half,” Cardona continued.