"We are the only country of our peer nations in the Western world who are so hysterical about reopening schools," said Atlas on Monday during a press conference. "We seem to be the only country willing to sacrifice our children out of fear."
This Monday marked the first day of the 2020-21 school year Florida. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued an emergency order requiring the public schools to offer "brick and mortar" classes five days per week. About 1.6 out of the state's 2.68 million students are now back to in-person learning in traditional classroom settings.
"We can’t panic. There's no place for fear in public policy," said Atlas, who was appointed by President Donald Trump to the nation's top team of health experts last month. "The children are not at any significant risk, although there are exceptions. But the exceptions, of course, exist in every medical illness. If you are a doctor you understand that, they do not overwhelm the rest of the evidence."
Atlas said healthy people exposed to the CCP virus don't need to be tested unless they exhibit symptoms. Florida was only testing people with symptoms until May when DeSantis began lifting statewide restrictions on restaurants and bars and testing was expanded.
"When you start a program of testing, simply to detect positive cases among asymptomatic low-risk, it proves that really the only outcome is to close the schools," Atlas said. "And the goal of testing is not to close things."
DeSantis echoed Atlas's idea that the priority of COVID-19 testing should be shifted from schools, including colleges and universities, to symptomatic people. "Having our universities up and operating is very, very important," he said at the University of South Florida in Tampa. "We want to continue to support those efforts going forward."
Meanwhile, the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) criticized Atlas's remarks, taking a particular issue with the fact that he is a neuroradiologist who does not have a background in infection diseases or epidemiology.