This Molecular Biologist Dispels The 'Kids Don't Spread COVID' Myth

by Karen Johnson
Originally Published: 
Dr. Ali Nouri/Twitter

One of the many, many falsehoods we’ve heard over the past few months—mostly to justify the mass reopening of schools this fall—is that kids don’t spread COVID. Or, at least, they aren’t likely to spread it.

This delusion comes from the fact that young children seem to fend off COVID far better than adults. And that kids who do test positive have commonly been asymptomatic. So, because of this interesting reaction in kids, we’ve heard politicians say dumb things like “Kids don’t get COVID!” so sending them back to school in large numbers must be safe, right?

One such politician is Florida governor and loyal Trumpeteer Ron DeSantis, who has been a major supporter of reopening schools with in-person instruction.“The fact is, in terms of the risk to school kids, this is lower risk than seasonal influenza,” DeSantis was quoted as saying this summer.

But what DeSantis failed to address, along with many other Trumpist science-deniers, is that schools are also chock-full of adults, who are vital in making the schools run. Adults who are vulnerable to COVID. And that COVID in adults, especially high-risk adults, is far more dangerous than the seasonal flu.

Tang Ming Tung/Getty

But furthermore, beyond the obvious ridiculousness of saying that schools should reopen because kids don’t get COVID (as if a school building is some isolated Lord of the Flies/Peter Pan island inhabited entirely by children), there’s something else that we’ve learned over the past few months, and it’s that kids can and do transmit the virus to others.

Take a look at this Twitter thread, for example, from Dr. Ali Nouri, Molecular Biologist and President of the Federation of American Scientists, who is passionately committed to fighting the spread of false COVID-19 info. (Thank you, Dr. Nouri!)

In sharing tweets like this, he helps dispel the myth that “kids don’t transmit COVID to others.” And, he helps us understand why it’s essential that kids still social distance, wear masks, wash their hands frequently, and quarantine at home if they’re exposed to the virus.

The study referenced in this tweet reported on twelve children who acquired COVID-19 in child care facilities. It reveals that the kids had mild or no symptoms, but that they did transmit the virus to at least 26% of the “non-facility contacts” (people outside the daycare) they came in contact with—one of whom was hospitalized.

Dr. Nouri also shared other links, stating his clear opinion on the matter. “Since political officials are trying to censor CDC reports, I thought I’d share 12 of the ones I’ve found useful,” he tweets, sharing a link to an article about a summer camp in Georgia where 44% of the children, averaging around 12 years old, tested positive.

44%. That’s 260 kids, taking the coronavirus with them as they leave camp, and potentially spreading it to their loved ones and greater community. Because again, as the CDC reports, “Children of all ages are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection… and, contrary to early reports might play an important role in transmission.”

Dr. Tina Hartert, professor of medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, says the same thing. “We have reason to believe from decades of data from other respiratory viruses that children are very good transmitters,” she says, according to The Wall Street Journal.

And, a study out of South Korea traced the contacts of approximately 5,700 people—including 150 kids—who were among the first to test positive for COVID-19. The results? You guessed it. “The researchers found that children between 10 and 19 years old transmitted the virus within their own households at the same rate as adults of certain ages,” says The Wall Street Journal.

This means that even if little Aiden and Amelia seem fine, they can easily be walking around, carrying a potential deadly virus, breathing it all over their home or wherever else they go—like Grandma’s house, for example. This means that kids can pick up the virus at school and bring it home to their parents and older siblings. And that those parents or grandparents or older siblings can then take COVID-19 to their schools, to their workplaces, to their friends’ houses, and throughout the greater community.

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This is important. Because if we are lax and do not think children can be carriers, we won’t be nearly as vigilant about masks and hand washing and social distancing as we need to be. And kids—adorable as they may be—will continue to silently spread this virus and put others in harm’s way.

And, we have to keep in mind that this virus is new. We only know all that we know about polio or the measles because years have passed, research has been done, and the long-term effects are now known. We will know, years into the future, more about how COVID-19 is transmitted, if kids are as likely to transmit it as adults, how it’s most often transmitted, etc.

For now, we can only work with what we do know. We know that kids can get COVID-19, so there is no reason to think they cannot transmit it. Also the most recent studies are finding that it seems that the older the child is, the more likely they are to transmit the virus as adults do.

And finally, we know that masks work. We know that social distancing works. And we know that we have not yet beaten this pandemic.

So what do we do with this information? Does this mean parents should frantically rip their kids from school today, if they’ve been attending and schools have been following proper protocol? Not necessarily. But it does mean we need to take off our blinders and face reality. This does mean kids can put us, the parents, as well as their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, siblings, and neighbors at risk.

Children—both symptomatic and asymptomatic—can spread the coronavirus. And it’s time we all accept that fact, especially powerful leaders like the president and the governors who kneel at his feet. Our country’s future is at stake.

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