Told he's not the 'end-all,' Fauci agrees but says, 'I'm a scientist'

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Public health official Anthony Fauci clashed with a senator on Tuesday about when to reopen U.S. schools, acknowledging he did not have the final word on pandemic-related decisions but warning against being “cavalier” about the danger to children.

“As much as I respect you, Dr. Fauci, I don’t think you’re the end-all,” U.S. Senator Rand Paul said during the infectious disease expert’s testimony to a Senate committee. “I don’t think you’re the one person who gets to make a decision.”

A member of President Donald Trump’s Republican Party, Paul questioned the accuracy of models predicting the pandemic’s path. He said he believed it would be a mistake not to reopen schools.

“We don’t know everything about this virus,” responded Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “And we’d really better be very careful, particularly when it comes to children.

“I think we’d better be careful that we are not cavalier in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects.”

Fauci referred to a rare inflammatory syndrome believed to be linked to the novel coronavirus, which has killed at least three children in New York and afflicted dozens of others.

The syndrome shares symptoms with toxic shock and Kawasaki disease, including fever, skin rashes, swelling of the glands, and in severe cases, inflammation of arteries of the heart.

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When the senator suggested Fauci was not the “end-all” who makes the decision, Fauci replied: “I have never made myself out to be the end-all, or the only voice in this.

“I’m a scientist, a physician and a public health official. I give advice according to the best scientific evidence. ... I don’t give advice about economic things. I don’t give advice about anything other than public health.”

Fauci, an advocate of emergency measures including stay-at-home orders, became a target for criticism from the American far right and online conspiracy theorists after he made statements about the outbreak which were at odds with Trump’s.

The president, who previously made the strength of the economy central to his pitch for his November re-election, has encouraged states to reopen businesses that had been deemed non-essential amid the pandemic.

A CNN opinion poll on Tuesday showed 84% of Republicans trust the information they get about coronavirus from Trump versus 4% of Democrats, while 61% of Republicans trust the information they get from Fauci versus 81% of Democrats.

An ophthalmologist, Paul in March became the first U.S. senator to announce he had tested positive for the virus.

Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller