Are Children Contributing To The Spread Of COVID‑19?

by Kroger Health Staff

Last Updated: September 10, 2020

With the start of the new school year, many are wondering about what role children play in spreading COVID-19. In the early stages of the pandemic, many medical experts believed children appeared to be unaffected by the virus. As scientists continue to study the virus, new data indicates that children can spread COVID-19. But are they a primary source of community spread? Here’s what we know.

While children are not immune to COVID-19, it appears that it typically causes mild cases in children - with the exception of pediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome (PIMS or MIS-C), which is relatively rare.

Some super spreader events link directly to children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study on a superspreader event in late June at an overnight camp in Georgia. In just a few days, at least 260 campers and teen staffers tested positive. It is important to note that of the campers tested, the children ages 6 to 10 had the highest infection rate, and fifty-one percent tested positive. Another summer camp in Missouri closed after 82 children, and staff members became infected.

Research is underway to try and determine children’s role in COVID-19 spread. A recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that children under the age of five and infected with mild or moderate cases of COVID-19 had higher amounts of the viral nucleic acid in their nose and throat when compared to infected adults. The authors point out it is too early to say whether or not a higher viral load indicates children spread COVID-19 as much as adults but maintain that this is a possibility.

While further research is necessary to determine how infectious young children are, multiple studies support the fact that children age ten and older are at least as likely to spread the virus as adults. In an interview with MSNBC on July 29, 2020, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) said, “It’s been shown that children from 10 to 19 can transmit the virus to adults as well as adults can.” A recent study published in Emerging Infectious Diseases supports Dr. Fauci’s statement. The study analyzed the contacts, through contact tracing, of 5,700 COVID-19 patients and found that infected children ages 10-19 spread the virus at least as much as adults.

Until we know more about children and COVID-19, the safest option is to presume everyone, including the young, can transmit the disease. To prevent the spread, we should all abide by the CDC guidelines, including the recommendation that everyone age two years and older should wear a mask in public settings.

Disclaimer: The information in this story is accurate as of its publication. However, the situation surrounding COVID-19 is ever-evolving. We are working to keep our stories up-to-date as changes occur, but we also encourage everyone to check news and recommendations from the CDC, WHO, and their local authorities.