Sen. Rand Paul tangled with the nation's foremost COVID-19 public health expert during a Senate committee hearing Tuesday over sending kids back to school and reopening the economy.

Speaking during a meeting of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Paul, R-Ky., said it is "ridiculous" to have a national strategy of not sending kids back to school in the fall and attacked Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Paul said that the COVID-19 mortality rate of children is much lower than adults, and he pointed to Sweden, which has kept schools open for children under 16 and is outside the top 10 countries in the world for COVID-19 deaths per capita. Sweden does, however, have the largest number of COVID-19 cases and fatalities in Scandinavia.

"If we keep kids out of school for another year, what's going to happen is the poor and underprivileged kids who don't have a parent that's able to teach them at home are not going to learn for a full year," Paul said.

Paul rebuked Fauci, saying: "I don't think you're the end-all. I don't think you're the one person who gets to make a decision. We can listen to your advice, but there are people on the other side saying there's not going to be a surge and that we can safely open the economy."

Fauci took exception to Paul's comments, saying he never made himself out to be the "only voice of this" and that he doesn't give advice about "anything other than public health."

Though Fauci said that children have lower mortality rates than adults and the elderly, he added that "I think we better be careful if we are not cavalier in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects" of COVID-19.

"I am very careful, and hopefully humble, in knowing that I don't know everything about this disease," Fauci said. "And that's why I'm very reserved in making broad predictions."

Paul's comments came less than a day after Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced a 10-year-old Kentucky child was in critical condition due to COVID-19.

Answering a question from Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., earlier in the hearing, Fauci called the possibility of having a vaccine in time for the return of K-12 or college students in the fall “unrealistic.”  

"Even at the top speed we're going, we don't see a vaccine playing in the ability of individuals to get back to school, this term."

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