The U.S has become the first nation in the world to reach a grim milestone: 5 million confirmed cases with 162,000 deaths. The number of cases across the country has nearly doubled since the end of June, serving as a stark reminder that we have yet to get this virus under control.
Nearly 100,000 children have also tested positive in the last two weeks of July, representing nearly a quarter of all children diagnosed since the start of the pandemic back in March. This comes right as the nation gets ready to go back to school. Some students have already started going back to the classroom, to varying results. Recent outbreaks at elementary schools in Georgia and Montana have prompted cause for concern among parents and health professionals.
During a recent Fox News interview, President Trump claimed that children are “almost immune” to the virus. After posting the interview on social media, Facebook and Twitter removed it for spreading misinformation about the coronavirus.
Even though children are less likely to die from COVID-19 than adults, they can still get infected and pass the virus to others. Learn the facts on children and the spread of the virus.
Infection in Children
Children make up around 8.8% of all coronavirus patients in the U.S. We know that most children do not seem to suffer from severe illness post infection, but that doesn’t mean that children are immune to this disease. The Centers for Disease Control reports that at least 45 children age 14 and under have died from COVID-19-related causes since the pandemic began.
That’s just a fraction of the 162,000 Americans that have already passed away since mid-March, but clearly, children can still die of this disease.
Health experts are attributing the recent jump in cases among young people to the reopening of schools. After months of staying at home with their parents, many kids are starting to venture out in public as they head back to school. We’ve seen viral photos of cramped hallways in schools that have already reopened. Many institutions simply do not have the space or resources to enforce social distancing in hallways, cafeterias, and other common areas.
Infection rates in children tend to vary dramatically across the country. In 25 states, young people make up around 10% of cases or more, with the highest percentages in Wyoming, Tennessee, and New Mexico. However, in New York and New Jersey, children make up just 3% of all confirmed cases.
Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children
After being exposed to the coronavirus, children can also contract what’s known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), a rare condition in which different parts of the body become inflamed, such as the kidney, lungs, heart, and brain. Patients tend to suffer from fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, neck pain, rash, and fatigue.
This is a relatively new development and doctors are still trying to make sense of the syndrome. It has yet to be categorized as a disease, considering we know so little about it. Some doctors say the disease is essentially the same as some of the severe cases of COVID-19 we’ve seen in adults, but others are pushing back on this idea.
When exposed to a foreign agent such as the coronavirus, our bodies tend to respond with inflammation. The body releases small proteins known as cytokines to help manage the inflammation, but in some cases, it will release too many cytokines too quickly, which can lead to a range of health problems. 570 children have already contracted MIS-C, and 10 have died.
As scientists continue studying this syndrome, it’s a reminder that the long-term effects of COVID-19 remain unclear. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the virus and how it affects children, which is why so many parents and providers are concerned, even if children make up just a fraction of all virus-related deaths.
How Children Spread the Virus
There’s still some debate in the medical community in terms of how likely children are to transmit the virus. Preliminary evidence suggests that younger children, usually those under the age of ten, are around 50% less likely to spread the virus than adults. However, children over the age of ten, including teenagers, appear to spread the disease just as often as their older counterparts.
This means that elementary schools may be more likely to reopen in the fall in some areas. In-person learning is vital for younger kids. As many educators will tell you, it’s nearly impossible to teach a five-year-old how to read over Zoom or Skype.
With this information in mind, high schools and middle schools may be less inclined to reopen their doors, especially if students have the means to learn on their own at home.
Keep this information in mind as you talk to parents and children about the virus. If you are a parent, remember that your children are not immune, so it’s always best to err on the side of caution.