Citing partial data and making demonstrably untrue assertions about the severity of the coronavirus pandemic Tuesday, Sen. Rand Paul challenged the nation's top infectious disease doctor, Anthony Fauci, on reopening America, suggesting the renowned epidemiologist should show more humility.
Fauci, the long-serving director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, did not correct the Kentucky Republican, but did offer a humbling response in the hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Paul, who is one of the first lawmakers on Capitol Hill to get the disease while spurning social distancing advice, was insisting that most schools should be able to reopen. He pointed to data from Sweden, which kept its classrooms functioning, and data from New York, where very few children have died of the coronavirus. "We have less deaths in Kentucky than we have in an average flu season. Not to say this isn't deadly, but really outside of New England, we've had a relatively benign course for this virus nationwide," Paul said, skipping over terrible outbreaks in Michigan, Louisiana and New Jersey, as well as new spikes in the Mid West. "I think we ought to have a little bit of humility in our belief that we know what's best for the economy, and as much as I respect you Dr. Fauci, I don't think you're the end all, I don't think you're the one person that gets to make a decision," Paul said. Fauci is not in charge of economic decisions. He has been especially diplomatic, however, in explaining to lawmakers the medical risks if the country reopens before it has the resources to do extensive testing, tracing of disease and treatment of new outbreaks.
"There is a real risk that you'll trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control which, in fact, will set you back, not only leading to some suffering and death that could be avoided, but could even set you back on the road to get economic recovery," Fauci said before Paul's turn at questions. Fauci did not appear to appreciate either Paul's broad assertions of the lack of danger to children, or his suggestion that Fauci was trying to run the show on restarting the economy. "I never made myself to be out the 'end all,' and only voice in this. I'm a scientist, a physician, and a public health official. I give advice according to the best scientific evidence." Fauci said other people make recommendations on the economy. As for showing humility, he suggested -- politely -- that he has plenty and that maybe Paul should have more when making declarations about kids and coronavirus. "You used the word we should be humble about what we don't know -- and I think that falls under the fact that we don't know everything about this virus and we really better be very careful, particularly when it comes to children," Fauci said. "The more and more we learn, we're seeing things about what this virus can do that we didn't see from the studies in China or in Europe." He pointed specifically to some 100 cases in New York of children suffering an inflammatory disease apparently caused by Covid-19 that has killed at least five of them. "I think we better be careful that we are not cavalier in thinking children are completely immune to the deleterious effects," Fauci said. "Children in general do much, much better than adults and the elderly and particularly those with underlying conditions, 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. Thank you."