Former CDC director: Opening schools is easy, 'keeping them open' is 'the hard part'

Frieden said opening schools may be possible in some areas where case numbers are low

Former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said that while children may not suffer from coronavirus to the same degree as adults, there is still a lot of unknowns when it comes to how they are affected and having kids in school this fall could prove difficult in some places.

In an interview with "Fox News Sunday," Frieden noted the concern with whether or not opening schools will be safe for faculty and staff -- as well as students' families -- but said that in areas where case numbers are staying low it may be safe.

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“One thing we know is that kids are way, way less likely to get seriously ill from COVID, about a thousand times less likely than adults," he said. "In addition, the severity of COVID is fairly similar to the severity of a seasonal influenza for kids. But that’s just one part of the equation. What about the staff, what about the teachers, what about people in the homes of kids – grandparents, others -- that those kids could infect?”

Frieden noted that recently released CDC guidelines say that if the risk is low in a community, schools could potentially operate safely, but maintaining a safe environment could prove difficult.

“The bottom line is, any community can open schools. The hard part is opening them and keeping them open and only a community that both controls COVID and opens schools carefully is going to be able to do that.”

Frieden also said there is “uncertainty” regarding the rates at which children can transmit COVID to adults. He said children “may be less likely” to spread the virus, but there is insufficient evidence to know for sure.

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“What we do know is that if you have a lot of COVID in the community, you’re going to have a lot of COVID in the school.”

In order to best protect a community, Frieden said that cases must be quickly tracked and contained because he does not envision COVID-19 going away anytime soon. He said that at best, a vaccine could be made available next year, if one is effectively and safely developed.

“Unless you’re an island and able to keep it out entirely, the best-case scenario is a community that rapidly finds cases and rapidly stops them, and prevents the kind of explosive spread that we’ve had in the U.S," he said. Frieden noted that places where bars and dine-in restaurants have been open have seen spreads that appear to come from those establishments, and that cities and states need to decide what is more important: keeping those businesses going or hoping for children to go back to school this fall?

"In the Northeast, basically we’ve made that choice, cases remain low, and if it keeps low we’ll be able to start some form of in-person schooling in many communities in the fall," he said.

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CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield said when the new guidelines were released on Thursday that it was vital for schools to reopen in September, but added there must be an increased sense of vigilance and practicality among students, teachers and administrators.

“It is critically important for our public health to open schools this fall,” he explained. “The CDC resources released today will help parents, teachers and administrators make practical, safety-focused decisions as this school year begins. I know this has been a difficult time for our nation’s families. School closures have disrupted normal ways of life for children and parents, and they have had negative health consequences on our youth. CDC is prepared to work with K-12 schools to safely reopen while protecting the most vulnerable.”

Fox News' Nick Givas contributed to this report.