Children’s ability to transmit and contract COVID-19 may increase when schools reopen, researchers say

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Evidence to date suggests children are less vulnerable and less likely to transmit the coronavirus than adults, however, this might change as schools reopen, researchers say.

“Young children may show higher attack rates when school closures end, contributing to community transmission of COVID-19,” Korean authors wrote in a published paper, Contact Tracing during Coronavirus Disease Outbreak.

This vulnerability of infection and likelihood to spread also applies to those ages 10 to 19 years old. In fact, this age group can spread the coronavirus just as easily as adults, according to the largest study to date examining children, coronavirus infection rates and virus transmissibility.

Researchers retrospectively assessed approximately 65,000 people in South Korea between January 20 and March 27. Of the 65,000, 5,706 tested positive for COVID-19. Researchers then traced individuals who were in contact with the 5,706 infected cases during the study time frame including people living in the same household as the person who tested positive as well as individuals living outside their home.

Results showed 18.6% of those between the ages of 10 and 19 tested positive for the coronavirus. This was greater than the 16.5% of people ages 40 to 49 and just shy of the 19.3% between 50 and 59 years old who also tested positive.

But since many younger people tend to be asymptomatic, it’s not clear if they infected the household member with the coronavirus or contracted it from them. 

Regardless, health experts predict school reopenings will contribute significantly to infections within communities not only in adults, but in children of all ages. Districts should proceed with caution, they warn.

“I fear that there has been this sense that kids just won’t get infected or don’t get infected in the same way as adults and that, therefore, they’re almost like a bubbled population,” Michael Osterholm, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Minnesota said in an interview with The New York Times. “There will be transmission,” Dr. Osterholm said. “What we have to do is accept that now and include that in our plans.” Dr. Osterholm was not involved in the research.

Indianapolis Public Schools announced on July 18 it will delay the 2020-2021 school year start date by two weeks. Classes will begin on August 17.