Donald Trump and his billionaire heiress and non-educator Education Secretary Betsy DeVos continue their relentless push for school reopenings, even threatening to cut off federal funds to those schools that hesitate to throw open their doors, exposing millions of public school children, parents and teachers to the potentially lethal effects of COVID-19. One of their loudest talking points has been the supposedly low rate of transmission of the virus by children.
New research indicates that, although they don’t suffer the same degree of ill effects as adults, children aged 5-17 are actually bastions of COVID-19 contagion to other children, as well as adults such as parents, grandparents, and teachers. More on that in a moment.
As CNN reported on July 22, Trump has a few favorite go-to lines when it comes to kids and COVID-19.
During Wednesday's briefing, Trump continued to advocate for schools opening in the fall. In support of this he claimed that "a lot of people" say children "don't transmit" coronavirus.
"They don't catch it easily, they don't bring it home easily," Trump added. "And if they do catch it, they get better fast."
DeVos has gone even further, spewing uninformed, truly malignant nonsense.
“More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don’t get it and transmit it themselves, so we should be in a posture of—the default should be getting back to school kids in person, in the classroom.”
Never mind that millions of stressed, overcredulous parents are generally accustomed to believing what our education secretaries say (and are unlikely to be familiar with DeVos’ virulently anti-public school credentials). The real danger is that statements like DeVos’ are regurgitated over and over by unqualified bloviators in right-wing media, until they worm their way into school board meetings across the country, ultimately influencing the decisions that determine the fate of the nation’s schoolchildren.
Which brings us back to that research that contradicts both DeVos and Trump. Two separate new studies examining the transmission of COVID-19 by younger children now strongly indicate those statements are categorically false. In fact, the exact opposite seems to be the case: Small children spread the COVID-19 virus quite efficiently, even moreso than adults.
William A. Haseltine, a healthcare contributor for Forbes, reports:
Two new studies, though from different parts of the world, have arrived at the same conclusion: that young children not only transmit SARS-CoV-2 efficiently, but may be major drivers of the pandemic as well.
The first study, published in JAMA, is peer-reviewed. As Haseltine notes, researchers examined findings from a pediatric hospital in Chicago, the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital.
The Chicago study examines the concentration of the SARS-CoV-2 in the nasopharynx, or the upper region of the throat that connects to the nasal passages, of children and adults. According to the results, children 5 years and younger who develop mild to moderate Covid-19 symptoms have 10 to 100 times as much SARS-CoV-2 in the nasopharynx as older children and adults.
Whenever these young children cough, sneeze, or shout, they expel virus-laden droplets from the nasopharynx into the air. If they have as much as one hundred times the amount of virus in their throat and nasal passages as adults, it only makes sense that they would spread the virus more efficiently. The study also shows that children from the ages of 5 to 17, also with mild to moderate Covid-19 symptoms, have the same amount of virus in the nasopharynx as adults age 18 and above.
The Chicago study did not specifically examine the rate of transmission by small children, but rather its efficiency. The fact that a child has 100 times as much of the virus in nasal swab samples strongly points to a very efficient rate of transmission, just like any other cold or virus a child catches and spreads in school or day care. As reported in The New York Times this week, the lead author of the study was quite clear on this.
“It definitely shows that kids do have levels of virus similar to and maybe even higher than adults,” Dr. Heald-Sargent said. “It wouldn’t be surprising if they were able to shed” the virus and spread it to others.
The second study examines contact tracing findings conducted in Trento, Italy. While that study is in pre-print and still awaiting peer review, its results are consistent with those in the Chicago study. As Forbes’ Haseltine reports:
The researchers found that although young children had a somewhat lower risk of infection than adults and were less likely to become ill, children age 14 and younger transmit the virus more efficiently to other children and adults than adults themselves. Their risk of transmitting Covid-19 was 22.4 percent—more than twice that of adults aged 30 to 49, whose rate of contagiousness was about 11 percent. “Although childhood contacts were less likely to become cases,” they wrote, “children were more likely to infect household members.”
As Haseltine notes, the Trento study also found the youngest children to be the most efficient transmitters of the disease.
Both studies appear to have been further validated by the horrific experience of a single Georgia YMCA summer camp this week in which nearly half of hundreds of youth campers were infected in a matter of days, despite many “social distancing measures” purportedly in place. In evaluating that incident, the CDC on Friday released a report which could serve as an addendum to these two studies.
These findings demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 spread efficiently in a youth-centric overnight setting, resulting in high attack rates among persons in all age groups, despite efforts by camp officials to implement most recommended strategies to prevent transmission.
Asymptomatic infection was common and potentially contributed to undetected transmission, as has been previously reported (1–4).
This investigation adds to the body of evidence demonstrating that children of all ages are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection (1–3) and, contrary to early reports (5,6), might play an important role in transmission.
Any parent who has ever raised a preschool or school-aged child is familiar with the varying and often unpleasant viruses they bring home, particularly when those children are still toddlers. These studies show that it is equally likely, even in spite of the most valiant attempts to “socially distance” such children, that it will be effectively impossible to keep them from efficiently transmitting the disease to their parents or siblings when they come home, to say nothing of the potential transmission to teachers and other adult staffers.
As Haseltine observes, “If children from ages 5 to 17 are as or possibly even more contagious than adults, then opening schools in areas where daily rates of infection remain moderate to high is extremely risky and unwise.”
While pushing schools to reopen regardless of the risks, neither Donald Trump nor Betsy DeVos have displayed the slightest interest in the health and safety of our children, of parents, or teachers. But in truth, parents and teachers didn’t need these new studies to understand that. The wisest course of action for any parent or teacher when Trump or DeVos pretend to give advice—as several prematurely reopening schools and youth summer camps are now finding out—is to do the exact opposite of what they recommend.
(h/t FiredUpinCA and fionnmaccumhailus from the comments for the latest CDC report)
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