Aug 5, 2020 - Health

There’s not much good news about kids and coronavirus

Illustration of two marshmallows over a fire on sticks, with one marshmallow the shape of a Coronavirus cell.
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The more we learn about kids and the coronavirus, the riskier reopening schools for in-person learning appears to be, at least in areas with high caseloads.

Why it matters: There have already been many reports about the virus spreading through schools and summer camps, and evidence has begun to support the notion that children can play a key role in community transmission.

The big picture: Children, thankfully, still aren’t getting severe coronavirus infections as often as adults do. The bigger question around reopening schools has been whether they become conduits for the virus’ spread among adults.

  • If children can spread the virus to more vulnerable family members and school staff, that quickly becomes a huge problem.

Driving the news: Based on a growing body of anecdotal evidence, children don’t seem to have any problem spreading the virus to one another.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week reported a large outbreak at a sleepaway camp in Georgia. Within a week of the camp’s orientation, one counselor went home, and the camp shut down a few days later. But by then, nearly half of the roughly 600 campers and counselors had already been infected.
  • Staff were required to wear cloth masks, but campers weren’t.
  • “The study affirms that group settings can lead to large outbreaks, even when they are primarily attended by children,” Johns Hopkins’ Caitlin Rivers told the NYT.

Piling on to the bad news, a recent study found that infected children carry at least as much — if not more — of the coronavirus in their noses and throats as adults.

  • The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, found that children under 5 may host as much as 100 times the amount of the virus that adults do.
  • “Young children can potentially be important drivers of SARS-CoV-2 spread in the general population,” the authors write.
  • Yes, but: Although viral load is generally an indicator of infectiousness, the study didn’t establish that.

Between the lines: We’re also slowly learning more about the biggest outstanding question: how likely children are to transmit the virus to adults.

  • A recent study from South Korea found that, within their households, children between 10 and 19 transmitted the virus at least as well as adults, while those younger than 10 were significantly less likely than adults to spread the disease.
  • Given how many schools are attempting to open for in-person learning in areas experiencing significant community spread, we’re probably not going to have to wait long for more evidence.

The bottom line: “We’ve seen that kids can transmit it to adults. Whether they transmit it as efficiently as adults transmit, we still need to learn more,” said Johns Hopkins’ Anita Cicero.

  • “But I think we’re now beginning to scratch the surface and seeing that we can no longer presume that kids are not going to be a significant factor in transmission once schools open.”
Go deeper