What Scientists Know About How Children Spread COVID-19
As communities struggle with the decision over whether to open up schools, the research so far offers unsatisfying answers
July 24, 2020
Every year, children are a major driver of transmission for the viruses that cause the flu and the common cold. So this March, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, Tina Hartert of the Vanderbilt School of Medicine expected the same to be true for the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. But months later, Hartert and other respiratory disease experts are still trying to pin down the elusive virus, which has surrendered only hints about its effects on children and their ability to spread the infection.
What has become clear is that children, especially younger children, do not get nearly as ill as adults, especially older people, and rarely die from COVID-19. For example, a meta-analysis of existing studies in Pediatric Pulmonology looked at 550 cases among children under 18 in China, Italy, and Spain; it found only nine children had a severe or critical case of COVID and only one, who had underlying conditions, died.
Still, the question of how likely kids are to be vessels ferrying the infection to others remains a looming concern as school districts and states across the U.S. consider whether and how to reopen for the fall. "It's obviously one of the critical questions that we have to answer," Hartert says. "We still don't have a lot of data."