Eager for schools to reopen and to return to the old “normal,” President Trump has been proclaiming his opinion that children are “virtually immune” or “almost immune” to infection with the coronavirus.
That’s false. A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association found that at least 97,000 children in the U.S. tested positive for the coronavirus in the last two weeks of July, with at least 338,000 U.S. children testing positive since the pandemic began. Consistent with their policy on misleading claims about COVID-19, Facebook and Twitter removed Trump’s posts on the subject.
Meanwhile, as summer winds down, schools that have begun to reopen are already seeing COVID-19 flare-ups among students as well as staff. Yahoo News Medical Contributor Dr. Dara Kass explains that the rise in cases among children, a change from early in the pandemic, is largely due to more adolescents being exposed at summer camps and in schools as in-person classes resume. Children are certainly not immune from the disease, she says.
“I think it’s important to get to a common definition of the term immunity as it relates to children and the coronavirus,” says Kass. “Immune means that if they were exposed to the virus, their bodies would fight it off without any chance of them getting infected. We know a hundred percent that is definitively false. There is nothing innate in children that means that every time they’re exposed to the virus there will be zero percent chance that they will be infected or spread this coronavirus.”
While most children with reported cases of COVID-19 are believed to be asymptomatic or have mild symptoms, with a low rate of hospitalization compared to adults, that does not mean that children are impervious to complications from the virus. The CDC says that children are still “at risk for severe COVID-19,” according to a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week. A third of pediatric hospital admissions for COVID-19 were to intensive care units — similar to the proportion among adults.
“Some people may think that only children with immune compromised conditions or other medical problems will be the ones affected by this virus,” Kass says. “We have seen numerous children with no medical problems and no preexisting conditions be hospitalized, have to go to the ICU and unfortunately pass away from this coronavirus.”
There is still much to learn about COVID-19’s impact on children. A recent study found that children younger than 5 had between 10 and 100 times more viral genetic material in their noses than older children and adults. Though the study didn’t measure transmissibility, these findings leave open the possibility that very young children could be spreaders of the coronavirus. And another study from South Korea found that teenagers, between the ages of 10 and 19, can spread the virus at least as well as adults do.
“Our information on how children both contract and transmit the coronavirus is early and incomplete at best,” Kass says. “What we know is that if children are going to go to school and be around adults and other children, they still need to wear a masks, they still need to be distant, and we still need to make sure that the viral prevalence in their communities is low enough that the entire community is at lower risk.”
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