Kids in Classrooms Could Make the Pandemic Much Worse
Reopening schools would be a ‘crazy’ experiment in communities with rampant Covid-19 infections
Despite the intense eagerness to get kids back to school, reopening K-12 classrooms on the heels of this summer’s surge in Covid-19 cases in the United States looks more and more like a risky experiment — particularly amid emerging evidence that children are quite capable of carrying the coronavirus and are more contagious than previously realized.
Preliminary analyses in the early months of the pandemic suggested children were not significant carriers of the coronavirus. But time and further research have revealed that’s just not true.
- Children five and younger can pack high levels of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, in their noses and throats — even more than adults, even if they’re only mildly ill, according to a recent study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. The potential contagiousness of younger children remains unclear, but they “can potentially be important drivers of SARS-CoV-2 spread in the general population,” the researchers conclude.
- In an outbreak at a June sleepover camp in Georgia, at least 260 children and adults contracted Covid-19 — about 44% of all kids and counselors. Among kids ages six to 10, 51% tested positive (the actual figure might be much higher because not all campers were tested). Precautions were taken, officials said, but campers weren’t required to wear masks and no efforts were made to increase ventilation in buildings.
- Research from South Korea, published in mid-July by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that infected individuals as young as 10 can be as contagious as adults.
Kids up through around age 10 “probably transmit less, maybe as much as 50% less,” compared with adults, says Ashish Jha, MD, a practicing internist and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who was not involved in the above studies. Less is, of course, not nothing, and nobody knows the actual transmission rate of Covid-19 by children.