Donald Trump has described US public health adviser Anthony Fauci’s caution about schools reopening as “completely unacceptable”.
Mr Trump accused Dr Fauci, who has become the de facto medical spokesman for the US during the coronavirus outbreak, of wanting to “play all sides of the equation” when giving out advice.
Dr Fauci gave a testimony before a Senate committee on Tuesday, where he warned relaxing rules too early could bring more “suffering and death”.
“We don’t know everything about this virus and we really better be pretty careful, particularly when it comes to children,” he told the committee.
“We just have to see on a step-by-step basis as we get into the period of time with the fall, about reopening the schools, exactly where we will be in the dynamics of the outbreak.”
In a meeting with reporters at the White House on Wednesday, Mr Trump said he believed schools should reopen soon.
“Our country’s got to get back and it’s got to get back as soon as possible, and I don’t consider our country coming back if the schools are closed.”
Asked about Dr Fauci’s comments further, he said: “Look, he wants to play all sides of the equation. I was surprised by his answer actually, because, you know, it’s just to me – it’s not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools. “
The president said the coronavirus has “had very little impact on young people”, although there is growing concern over cases of a mysterious inflammatory syndrome in children that is thought to be related to the virus.
Dr Fauci later clarified that he was not implying students should be barred from returning to class until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed.
Mr Trump and Dr Fauci have publicly disagreed before, including on the effectiveness of certain drugs that have been tested to treat the virus.
He has also complained to aides about Dr Fauci’s positive media attention and his willingness to contradict the president.
But Mr Trump has also acknowledged that the blowback to removing the doctor would be fierce.
The US is currently the worst-hit country in the world in terms of the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
There have been more than 1.3 million reported cases of coronavirus in the US and nearly 85,000 people have died after contracting the illness.
But the fatality rate compared to cases is one of the lowest in the world, with just 6% of cases resulting in deaths.