Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Wednesday that reopening schools for in-person learning should be the No. 1 focus for communities this fall during the coronavirus crisis.
“We need to be circumspect about what we open while we’re trying to open schools,” Gottlieb said on “Squawk Box.” “Our priority should be to get the schools open and do that safely and not have outbreaks in communities that could put pressure on the schools to have to close.”
The former Food and Drug Administration commissioner under President Donald Trump said there is more risk of spreading the coronavirus when people gather inside where air circulation may be poor. “That’s a higher-risk setting, and we know that the super-spreader events, they emanate from those kinds of settings.”
Gottlieb said he hopes businesses such as movie theaters, for example, have updated their ventilation systems as they reopen across the U.S. from coronavirus-closures. He also said policies like mandatory face masks also reduce the risk in a movie theater.
“I would have like to have seen more local communities open schools, do that successfully, and then we can incrementally open these kind of indoor entertainment venues if we’re successful in keeping the infection rates down as the schools reopen. That really needs to be our priority right now,” he stressed.
Schools across the U.S. have been grappling for months with how to reopen for in-person instruction this fall after the Covid-19 outbreak forced them to go to remote instruction in March. Even so, some of the country’s largest public districts, such as in Los Angeles, have chose to conduct fall classes online, setting off concerns about the quality of remote education and the burden it places on parents and guardians.
The nation’s largest school system, in New York City, intends to hold a mix of in-person classes and online classes — although its reopening plans were delayed Tuesday as the teachers union expressed safety concerns. The delay is meant to allow for school officials to better prepare for the fall. In-person class will start Sept. 21, instead of Sept. 10.
“Because community spread is so slow in New York State, there was a real opportunity to try to do some in-school learning, which is really, really important but it could only happen if it was safe,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which is affiliated with the city’s union, United Federation of Teachers.
Weingarten, in an earlier “Squawk Box” interview, emphasized that finding a way to safely reopen schools for in-person class is critical for the development of children. She lamented that remote learning has become “the default” in many communities where transmission of the coronavirus remains high or in places where school districts do not have adequate resources such as personal protective equipment.
“If we can make it safe, in-school is long-term a lot better than remote,” said Weingarten, who led UFT in New York City before her election as AFT president in 2008. “Ultimately, remote is a supplement to, not a substitute for, in school.”
Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and is a member of the boards of Pfizer, genetic-testing start-up Tempus and biotech company Illumina. He also serves as co-chair of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings‘ and Royal Caribbean’s “Healthy Sail Panel.