Dr. Scott Gottlieb warned on Friday against comparing the risks of coronavirus for children to seasonal influenza, stressing that Covid-19 is still largely unknown.
"The reality is that the flu infected 11.8 million children last year. We haven't infected nearly as many children with Covid, and we don't want to find out what it could be like if we did it," said Gottlieb "Closing" bell. "
In the United States, nearly 4.1 million cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed, according to a report by Johns Hopkins University.
Gottlieb's comments come as school districts in the United States prepare plans for fall classes amid the country's ongoing coronavirus epidemic. The Trump administration has intensified its calls for full reopening of schools for personal instruction in recent weeks. In early July, President Donald Trump threatened to withhold federal funding from those who do not open.
And on Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published updated school district guidelines that focused on the social and emotional costs of non-opening for personal instruction. The CDC guidelines state that the best evidence available suggests that children are less at risk of developing the disease than adults.
As of mid-July, people under the age of 18, according to the CDC, account for less than 7% of confirmed cases and less than 0.1% of deaths related to Covid-19.
However, Gottlieb said that the CDC guidelines also "quite grimly" compare the number of deaths in children from Covid-19 to the number of deaths in children due to seasonal flu. "So far, this pandemic has had fewer deaths from children than any of the last five flu seasons, at just 64," the CDC guidelines said.
That's true, said Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under Trump. "Fortunately, the actual incidence of hospital stays and deaths is low," said Gottlieb for children with coronavirus. "But the reality is that most children are unlikely to have been infected with Covid."
That's why he said, "We really want to prevent school outbreaks."
Gottlieb has repeatedly emphasized that it is possible for schools to reopen safely for personal instruction during the pandemic. But he also tried to call the decision local, which requires consideration of the Covid 19 outbreak in the region.
"It will be very difficult for communities to open schools for classroom learning against the backdrop of a truly epidemic, uncontrolled spread," he said. "The good news is that in many parts of the country the epidemic appears to be under control … I think these states will have the opportunity to open their schools in the fall, at least for a period of time."
Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC employee and a member of the boards of directors of Pfizer, the start-up company for genetic testing Tempus and the biotech company Illumina.