Can Kids Transmit the Coronavirus?

Please, please can we have camp?

Emily Oster
Elemental
Published in
6 min readMay 4, 2020

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Photo: Kawee Wateesatogkij / EyeEm/Getty Images

Pulled from my May 4 newsletter, ParentData

Full disclosure, I spend about 73% of my time obsessing about whether there will be summer camp in Rhode Island. I send borderline appropriate emails to people I work with on virus response, nagging them about this.

I’ve expanded my obsession to neighboring states. Maine seems promising! Maybe we can move there for the summer?! I’m perusing Airbnb like it’s my (fifth) job.

The concerns with opening camps relate to the concerns with opening schools: If we get a bunch of kids together, they’ll spread the virus. As a result, I was pretty excited when I saw a bunch of headlines last week implying that kids can’t spread the coronavirus.

But on the flip side, you have other researchers saying, no, in fact, kids do transmit Covid-19 and opening schools is dangerous. So what is it?

Kids and Covid-19 illness

I’ve already covered kids and Covid-19 a lot and noted that they do not seem to get very sick. There is a Chinese study saying this, there is data from the CDC, and there’s more data from the Netherlands and Italy. Basically, we are pretty clear at this point that serious Covid-related illness is just really, really rare in children.

Kids and viral spread

More complicated is the question of whether kids are viral spreaders. One possible view is that, actually, many kids are infected but they just do not have serious infection. But, of course, they could infect others. So when you get kids together, they’ll spread the virus without you knowing it, and then go home to infect parents, grandparents, and others. I like to call this the “asymptomatic viral bomb theory.”

Another view is that kids are very unlikely to contract the virus at all, and perhaps because their symptoms are mostly mild, they are also unlikely to spread it.

We are uncertain about this because of limited data. And it is clear that kids can spread the virus. There is work, for example, showing that children who are infected have viral loads similar to adults.

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Emily Oster
Elemental

Professor of Economics, Brown University. Author: Expecting Better and CRIBSHEET (April 2019). Goal: creating a world of more relaxed pregnant women and parents