Scientists are scrambling to learn more about how COVID-19 affects kids — and the role they play in spreading it
As the new school year starts and many districts are still grappling with how and whether they should open for in-person classes this year, scientists have been scrambling to learn more about how COVID-19 affects kids. Children have been thought to be more immune to the coronavirus than adults, but even though it’s more rare for kids to see serious symptoms of infection, very little is known about whether kids can carry and spread the virus to others — either asymptomatically or with symptoms.
Now, new research and anecdotal evidence is starting to point to kids being just as able to spread COVID-19 as adults are, especially if they don’t take social distancing precautions like wearing masks.
The Wall Street Journal reports that a number of studies and reports published in the last few weeks found infections were present in kids of all ages in settings ranging from schools to daycares and camps to their own homes. Research has also begun to suggest that kids — especially older ones like teens — can drive new infections. And recent research found that infected kids carry a high level of the virus’s genetic material in their upper respiratory tract. That’s not necessarily proof that kids can spread the virus, but it means that they certainly could.
Researchers do note that these are all early, preliminary studies with limitations, and that we need to do more research on the role kids play in spreading COVID-19. But anecdotal evidence is also being considered. Scientists are looking at outbreaks in schools in other countries; the fact that hundreds of kids got sick at a Georgia summer camp; the way schools that have already reopened in the U.S. are already experiencing outbreaks; how nearly 100,000 kids tested positive for COVID-19 in just a two-week period in July.
“Are they susceptible to catching the virus? Absolutely. Are they able to transmit the virus? Absolutely,” Joelle Simpson, interim chief of emergency medicine at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., told the Wall Street Journal.
Dr. Tina Hartert, professor of medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, who is leading a study of 2,000 households in the U.S. to research infection rates in kids and the family they live with says, “Until there is definitive data one way or the other, we have reason to believe from decades of data from other respiratory viruses that children are very good transmitters. There isn’t a lot of reason to believe that that wouldn’t be the case with this virus.”
This is pretty terrifying news as more and more schools are set to open in the coming weeks in the U.S., where COVID cases are still spiking and out of control in many states. Even as some of the hardest-hit states struggle to get their outbreaks under control, opening schools may drive yet another wave of infections.
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