"They have differing viewpoints. That's clear," White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Thursday

By Sean Neumann
May 14, 2020 04:11 PM
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Dr. Anthony Fauci (left) and former President Donald Trump
| Credit: Alex Wong/Getty; Doug MIlls/The New York Times/Pool/Getty

The White House said this week Donald Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci are at odds over how certainly to talk about schools reopening in the fall and how that process might look.

It was the latest crack in a growing divide between the president's messaging and health officials' guidance about the novel coronavirus.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Thursday morning that Trump disagrees with Fauci, an expert on infectious diseases who has been a face for the administration in providing daily updates on their virus strategy, about what schools should do amid the pandemic before a vaccine exists.

"As [Trump] said, they have differing viewpoints," McEnany, 32, said outside the White House. "That's clear."

"The president has a number of experts he takes into consultation and he decides what is best to go forward," McEnany said. "The president regularly talks to the doctors. … He ultimately makes the decision as to how to move forward. After all, he was elected by the American people to do just that.”

The confirmation of the president's disagreement with one of his own experts comes after he said Wednesday afternoon that he was "surprised" by Fauci's assessment that the local governments should be cautious in moving to reopen their schools by the fall. Classes were moved online or canceled in the wake of the virus' spread in the spring.

“I was surprised by his answer,” Trump, 73, told reporters Wednesday. “To me it’s not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools.”

"The only thing that would be acceptable, as I said, is professors, teachers, etc. over a certain age — I think they ought to take it easy for another few weeks: five weeks, four weeks, who knows," the president said. "Whatever it may be. But I think they have to be careful because this is a disease that attacks age and it attacks health. ... But with the young children and students, it’s really — it’s just — take a look at the statistics. It’s pretty amazing."

However, Fauci warned Congress this week that the country should be careful in reopening its schools and not be "cavalier" about doing so, especially given there will be no vaccine for the coronavirus by the fall and that health experts still don't know everything about the virus, which causes the COVID-19 respiratory illness that's infected more than 4.3 million people worldwide.

Dr. Anthony Fauci testifying in the Senate on Wednesday via video call.
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Data indicates children are at a much lower risk of dying from the coronavirus than people 65 and older or those with underlying health conditions.

But Fauci, who has served as a director at the National Institutes of Health since 1984, and other health officials have warned lawmakers not to rush to judgement that it's safe to send kids back to school as medical experts are still learning about the unknowns of the novel coronavirus.

“You’re right in the numbers that children in general do much, much better than adults and the elderly and particularly those with underlying conditions," Fauci, 79, told members of the Senate on Wednesday. "But I am very careful, and hopefully humble in knowing that I don’t know everything about this disease. And that’s why I’m very reserved in making broad predictions.”

"We just have to see on a step-by-step basis as we get into the period of time with the fall about reopening the schools, exactly where we will be in the dynamics of the outbreak," Fauci said.

"My concern, that if some areas, city, states or what have you jump over those various checkpoints and prematurely open up without having the capability of being able to respond effectively and efficiently, my concern is that we will start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks," he said.

Dr. Rick Bright, a U.S. virologist who says he was fired as the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, after disagreeing with Trump promoting unproven drugs as cures for the coronavirus.
| Credit: SHAWN THEW/POOL/AFP via Getty

Elsewhere this week, health officials warned other members of Congress that if states rushes to reopen without a vaccine then they could be at risk of another outbreak in the fall.

Dr. Rick Bright, a virologist who filed a whistleblower complaint earlier this month alleging he was fired as the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) after disagreeing with Trump's promotion of hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment, testified in the House of Representatives on Thursday that the "window is closing" for the U.S. to form an effective and coordinated plan to stop the virus.

"Without better planning, 2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history," Bright told members of the House.

"Americans deserve the truth" and "the truth must be based on science," Bright said.

"The window is closing to address this pandemic because we still do not have a standard, centralized, coordinated plan to take our nation through this response," he said. "I believe with properly leadership and collaboration across government, with the best science leading the way, we can devise a comprehensive strategy, we can devise a plan that includes all of Americans and help them help us guide us through this pandemic. But time is running out because the virus is still spreading everywhere."

On Thursday, the president brushed off Bright as "an angry, disgruntled employee" and said he "didn't do a very good job" as the director of BARDA, though Trump has also claimed he'd "never heard of him [Bright]."

Trump has split with health officials before regarding the coronavirus. He's ignored their recommendations about protective practices (such as wearing a mask) and floated suggestions for unproven methods of treatment, including hydroxychloroquine or injecting disinfectant into the body.

The president retweeted a "#FireFauci" hashtag last month, while Bright contends he was removed from his position because of disagreeing with the president publicly endorsing hydroxychloroquine (an anti-malaria drug some health experts warn has no clinically proven effect on coronavirus and could cause deadly heart problems).

More than 84,000 people in the U.S. have died from the virus, according to a New York Times tracker. Nearly 1.4 million of the world's 4.3 million confirmed cases for the virus are in the U.S., available data shows.

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