Fauci on reopening RI schools: ‘You’ve got to be flexible’

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The nation’s leading infectious disease expert took the time Thursday to praise Gov. Gina Raimondo’s efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19 in Rhode Island while also outlining what needs to be done to safely reopen schools.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, joined Raimondo during her weekly online forum to not only break down how to safely reopen schools, but to ease the concerns of teachers, parents and students.

Fauci said when it comes to reopening schools, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

“To say all schools must close or all schools must open is not the adequate and correct approach,” he said. “You’ve got to be flexible.”

The decision to reopen should depend on a state’s infection rate, Fauci said, which he broke down into three categories: green, yellow and red.

Green states, according to Fauci, have a less than 5% positivity rate, while yellow states have a positivity rate between 5-10% and red states have a more than 10% positivity rate.

Fauci said since Rhode Island is classified as a green state, the risk of infection is low, however, no plan can be considered “risk-free.”

“It’s never completely risk-free, but for goodness sake, we are all living in a historic pandemic, we haven’t had anything like this in the past 102 years,” he said. “You can’t interrupt totally, indefinitely ─ you’ve got to try to safely get back to normal and the way to safely get back to normal is to make sure your state is green and make sure it stays green.”

He said it also depends on the state’s response to any cases that do arise.

“There will always be cases. The question is: How do you prevent those blips of cases from becoming something that obviates the whole program?” Fauci said.

Thankfully, Fauci said, Rhode Island is “starting from a very good place.”

Earlier this week, Raimondo opted to delay the start of the school year by two weeks, pushing the first day of school back from Aug. 31 to Sept. 14.

“We’re not going to open schools until they’re safe,” Raimondo said during her weekly coronavirus briefing.

Raimondo said the extra time will allow health officials to shore up the state’s testing capacity and turnaround times, as well as give education officials more time to prepare.

Fauci also expressed the benefits of conducting classes outdoors and allowing students to eat meals outside, while also admitting that not every school will have the space to do so.

“If there’s room for outdoor learning, do it. If not, that’s OK too,” he said, adding that schools that can’t accommodate outdoor learning must ensure there’s proper ventilation indoors.

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Overall, Fauci said Rhode Island is doing very well and encouraged everyone to “keep it up.”

“We’re all in this together, so all of us can help alleviate the anxiety of the teachers and the parents by doing everything we can to keep the community green,” Fauci said. “Not only do you need to be careful in school, you need to be careful in your own community. Your responsibility doesn’t end at the school-room door, its throughout your entire existence.”

“This will end,” he continued. “We’re going to be looking back a year from now celebrating how we got through this together.”

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