Should we reopen schools.
SINCE THE BEGINNING of the coronavirus pandemic, children have been largely spared the worst health impacts of COVID-19. The same SARS-CoV-2 virus capable of killing a 50-year-old might leave a four-year-old unscathed.
“Children are suffering in different ways from adults,” says Megan Tschudy, a paediatrician at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
However, scientists are still struggling to understand how the virus affects children and whether kids can spread it to their older caregivers. Overall, scientists don’t fully understand why multiple kinds of coronaviruses—including COVID-19 and its viral cousins SARS and MERS—have different levels of severity across age ranges.
Even with increased testing showing that more kids are capable of contracting the virus than we previously thought, experts can only theorize as to why children are largely spared the intense version of COVID-19 that strikes so many adults.
It’s also unclear how easily kids can spread the virus, both to each other and to adults. One robust study of nearly 65,000 kids published by the South Korean Center for Disease Control last week showed that children in the 10- to 19-year-old age range could spread COVID-19 within households just as effectively as adults.
It seems that recent research shows that only 2 percent of American domestic COVID-19 cases have occurred in children under 18, but data this can hugely vary greatly by region. So far, 20 children under age five in the U.S. have died from COVID-19.
A small percentage of minors who test positive for COVID-19 develop a life-threatening condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, and at present it’s unclear if the disease has other long-term consequences.
Some research shows that it leaves lasting scars on the lungs and can lead to more severe illness down the line. But we will have no choice but to study the long-term effects over a period of time. Due to the youth being spared such severe illness, there has been no urgency to carry out the detailed research that has gone into the virus and how it impacts on adults.
However, there is a large study is now underway in the United States to understand how COVID-19 infects children.
How well can they spread the disease?
If we look at history and all things being equal, kids are far more likely to transmit things, due to how they interact, how they live in the moment and some have not formed habits that adults have in terms of personal hygiene. However, there appears very little research on how easily children spread the virus compared to adults.
However, a South Korean study has shown that children over 10 effectively spread the virus, much younger kids were 72 percent less likely to spread the disease to adults.
How children are managed seems to play a large role in transmission. Childcare centres that remained open during the pandemic have had a range of experiences, from large outbreaks at camps to infection-free daycare centres.
A popular theory for why children may be less likely to spread the disease to others has to do with the fact that COVID-19 primarily spreads through the droplets you breathe out, and children may breathe out with less force, and closer to the ground.
If you have children, you know they can shriek pretty loudly, but that may not translate into a farther spread, compared to the full force of an adult cough or sneeze.
Should schools reopen contract tracing is a must, providing a much better idea of how many people are coming into contact with each other.”
One prevailing theory for children under 10 don’t seem to get as sick has to do with an enzyme called ACE2. When SARS-CoV-2 enters the body, the spikey proteins encircling the virus latch on to ACE2 like a key fitting into a lock.
“One of the theories is that children have the [ACE2] receptors for this virus more in the nose [and] in the upper respiratory system than in the lungs, and adults have these receptors in the lungs,” says Elizabeth Barnett, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Boston Medical Center and professor of paediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine.
More resilient and adaptive immune systems may also help young children fend off the disease, says Alvaro Moreira, a neonatologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.
Some children face higher risks
However, as with adults, not all children have equal immune systems and not all children are equally affected.
Obesity could play a factor in the likelihood of a child recovering from covid-19 or having long term effects.
Due to the nature of the virus, it can bring to the fore previously undiagnosed issues causing a child to be more likely to have life long effects.
What little data there is available shows that lower-income kids and racial minorities are infected more.
The same ways adults stay safe—social distancing, wearing masks, and hand washing—will ultimately help kids contain the virus.
When we look at how fast we have gained data on the virus and how it impacts on adults.
Before we open schools do we need to have the same urgency on the virus and kids?