Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, joined Gov. Gina Raimondo in an online forum Thursday to discuss how to safely reopen schools amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the state is "starting from a very good place" as it considers the safest way to reopen schools, and that's because it's done so well containing the virus already.
"You've all done a really good job, keep it up. This will end," Fauci said in the governor's weekly Facebook Live forum.
Raimondo's office had said the talk would be about reopening schools "in a way that balances health and safety concerns with our children's need for a high-quality education."
On Wednesday, Raimondo announced that the start of school in Rhode Island would be delayed until Sept. 14 to give administrators and families more time to prepare amid the coronavirus pandemic. A final determination on whether schools go back in-person, remotely or by using the hybrid model will be made at the end of the month.
The last day of school was pushed back to June 25 to allow students their required 177 days of learning, the governor said. She had wanted schools to reopen on Aug. 31.
In his discussion with Raimondo Thursday, Fauci said the federal government's goal is, "to the best of our ability, to get the children back to school."
He noted that kids staying away from classes can have harmful effects on kids' psychological development, diets and even safety -- child abuse is up with tempers fraying as people are cooped up together for longer. And keeping kids at home can have negative effects on the economy, as taking care of them draws their parents' attention from work.
But allowing kids back into schools requires ensuring their safety and that of teachers and other staff, as much as that's possible, Fauci said, and the best way to do that is make sure that the risk of transmission is low overall.
Rhode Island, he said, is doing very well, with far fewer than 10 cases per 100,000, putting it in the "green" zone among U.S. states.
"You should be able to open up safely and clearly," Fauci said, adding that what officials should focus on, and what he'd want to know if he were a parent, is what plans are in place to prevent one infected child or school staff member from spreading the virus.
Fauci was enthusiastic when relayed a common question from Rhode Island parents by the governor: should classes be held outside?
"To the extent that you can possibly do that, I would get as much outdoor as I can," he said, pointing out that most super-spreader events take place inside.
To teachers worried about their safety in coming back to school, Fauci said Rhode Island's teachers are in good shape, given the low rate of transmission that makes the state green.
"It's never completely risk-free, but for goodness sakes, we are living, all of us, in a historic pandemic, we've never had anything like this for the last 102 years, since the pandemic of 1918, so it really is a challenge, and you can't interrupt your life totally, indefinitely," he said. "You've got to try and safely get back to normal, and the way to safely get back to normal is to make sure your state and your city and your county is green, and make sure it stays green."
In a news conference Wednesday, the governor said it's been a "herculean task" to get schools open because a number of factors need to be in place. Among those factors are whether schools have proper ventilation, what transportation plans are in place for students, whether stable groups can be maintained and how mask-wearing will be enforced.
The governor added that Rhode Island is not where it should be in terms of having rapid testing in schools.
The state has purchased eight rapid testing machines and is part of a 10-state collaborative to purchase testing kits, Raimondo said, to help meet its testing goal.
Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said at the news conference parents "know what's best" for their families about whether they want to send their children back to school in-person or remotely.
Rhode Island has recently seen an uptick in coronavirus cases. On Wednesday, there were two new deaths and 74 new positive cases reported, according to the Rhode Island Department of Health. The total number of deaths now stands at 1,018 while the total number of cases is 20,129.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.