Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, addressing more than 6,000 American teachers in a video meeting, said Thursday evening that students need to return to the classroom for the country to begin recovering.
“We are not going to get back to normal until we get the children back in school, for the good of the children, the good of the parents and the good of the community,” he said.
Attending a meeting convened by the two national teachers unions, Dr. Fauci brought with him the message of the Biden administration: that all K-8 schools should aim to reopen within the next 100 days. He said they can expect support from Washington in the form of a new stimulus package to fund sanitation upgrades and other safety measures.
As of last month, about one third of American school districts were operating entirely remotely, and Dr. Fauci acknowledged that “mitigating factors” may make the 100-day goal difficult to achieve in some places.
Fielding questions submitted by educators, he did not hesitate to acknowledge potential dangers.
He discussed the emergence of new variants of the coronavirus that appear more contagious and more resistant to vaccines. And he said that while he expected vaccines to prevent inoculated teachers from passing the virus onto their loved ones, there was not yet concrete evidence that would be the case.
As Dr. Fauci spoke, educators at the meeting posted comments — many reflecting frustration and anxiety. They complained that many states had not prioritized teachers for vaccination and said students were not able to effectively stay masked throughout the school day.
Several called for job actions.
“Teachers need to participate in a national strike to protect kids, communities, and teachers,” one wrote.
Dr. Fauci appeared alongside two powerful teachers union presidents: Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers and Becky Pringle of the National Education Association.
The event took place as some local unions across the country, most notably in Chicago, continue to resist efforts to reopen schools, arguing that doing so before widespread teacher vaccination would risk lives.
Ms. Weingarten has staked out a somewhat more moderate position, arguing that schools can operate safely before teachers are vaccinated by using strategies such as surveillance testing for the virus and updating ventilation systems. She has also asked for teachers with health concerns, or who live with family members with compromised immune systems, to be allowed to continue to work remotely.