Outgoing White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci denied responsibility for school closures during the pandemic, insisting in an interview on Sunday he had "nothing to do" with it.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the government's chief spokesman during the COVID-19 pandemic, was asked by ABC News' Jonathan Karl whether it was a "mistake" to keep schools closed for 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 replied. "And I don't want to do that because that's just happened too many times over the last years with me."
Asked if the country paid "too high a price" with the government's pandemic response, Fauci said, "We should realize, and have realized, that there will be deleterious collateral consequences when you do something like that."
Fauci noted that nearly 1,500 children were killed by the coronavirus and said that public officials needed to balance safety with keeping schools open.
"You shouldn't discount that it does afflict children, so it isn't without consequence," Fauci said. "If you go back, and I ask anybody to go back over the number of times that I've said we've got to do everything we can to keep the schools open; no one plays that clip. They always come back and say, 'Fauci was responsible for closing schools.' I had nothing to do [with it]— I mean, let's get down to the facts."
"You're not the head of a school board," Karl suggested.
"Exactly," Fauci said.
Prolonged school closures and the associated learning loss and mental health impact on children have become a source of lingering resentment for concerned parents. The reluctance of many school districts to reopen in 2020 and 2021, citing guidance from public health officials like Fauci, was politically divisive and at times led to contentious showdowns between parents and school boards.
A study from the Department of Education published in September found that average reading scores for 9-year-olds fell seven points in 2022 compared to scores in 2020, Fox News reported. The decline in reading scores was the largest drop in over three decades, and the study found the first recorded decline in math scores.
While it is true that Fauci never had direct authority to close schools, his words were influential on policymakers, and his various recommendations to keep schools closed were heeded.
In April 2020, Fauci reportedly "gave his blessing" to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan to close schools citywide. He also criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) for attempting to open schools, warning that doing so would lead to an increase in infections.
Fauci also repeatedly advised through 2020 that schools in areas of high viral transmission should remain closed and children participate in virtual learning.
Sunday's interview was not the first time Fauci has been disingenuous about his policy recommendations. In an August interview with Fox News host Neil Cavuto, Fauci asserted, "I didn't shut down anything," in response to a question about COVID-19 lockdowns.
He also deflected responsibility for public health guidance to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in another interview in July.
However, in October 2020 Fauci said that he recommended to President Donald Trump that "we shut the country down" in response to the pandemic.