As schools reopen, here's what we know about children and COVID-19
Just nine days before New York City—the largest school district in the United States—was set to start its 2020-2021 school year, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Sept. 1 announced classes would be delayed to allow for further COVID-19 safety preparations. Children scheduled to go back to school in-person on Sept. 10 would not return until Sept. 21; most remote classes were similarly pushed back. The delay is part of a deal to avoid a teachers' strike in New York City and comes in the wake of protests and other expressions of concern by teachers and parents across the country. The U.S. is in a unique position that makes sending students back to school particularly daunting: We have the highest rates of COVID-19 in the world with nearly 6 million cases as of Sept. 1, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Surging cases, high levels of community transmission, insufficient testing, and poor contract tracing in the U.S. make it difficult to compare school reopenings with countries where the virus is more controlled.
There are still unknowns about how COVID-19 impacts children, but a growing body of studies shed some light. Children who contract COVID-19 are more likely to show mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, though a very small number have come down with Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C), a rare COVID-19-related condition doctors don’t yet fully understand. It’s also unclear if children are less likely to be infected and whether, once infected, they transmit COVID-19 at the same levels as adults.
While researchers fill in the gaps of our knowledge, some concrete facts about children and COVID-19 have emerged. Stacker compiled a review of facts and statistics about how COVID-19 relates to children in the U.S. from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other public health sources. For the purposes of these statistics, children are considered to be anyone in the population younger than 18.
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Children account for 8% of COVID-19 cases in the US
Children 17 and younger account for 8.1% of reported COVID-19 cases as of Sept. 1. Children 4 and younger comprise 1.7% of cases, while those between the ages of 5 and 17 make up 6.4% of cases, pointing to an age gradient of susceptibility to the disease.
Over 476,000 children have tested positive for COVID-19
While children make up less than 10% of America's COVID-19 cases, the number of infected kids is still high. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics which compiled data from state public health departments found an overall rate of 631 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 children in the population, as of Aug. 27.
Children account for 1% of reported COVID-19 hospitalizations in the US
Children account for about 1.5% of COVID-19 hospitalizations as of Aug. 22, demonstrating that most infected children experience less-severe COVID-19 symptoms than adults. Milder symptoms—or no symptoms at all—mean children don’t require medical intervention at the rates of adults.
Over 90% of children with COVID-19 have no or mild symptoms
An expert panel in July reported that, of children who contract COVID-19, more than 90% will have no symptoms or mild symptoms. Those who do have symptoms are likely to experience mild upper respiratory issues in the nose, sinus, and throat—as opposed to adults who often also suffer lower respiratory symptoms of the lungs.
694 children in the US have contracted Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome
Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C) is a rare condition that is still not fully understood. There have been 694 cases reported as of Aug. 20. Most children have recovered, but there are 11 reported deaths. Some children develop the syndrome weeks after contracting COVID-19, but others have developed MIS-C seemingly without having a prior COVID-19 infection.
Children under 10 are less susceptible to infection
There is early evidence that children younger than 10 are significantly less susceptible to infection than adults when experiencing the same exposure to COVID-19. This supports findings that showed the virus didn’t spread as much in elementary schools compared with middle and high schools last spring.
Older children may be infected at rates similar to adults
While children younger than 10 are less susceptible to infection, older children may be at the same risk level as adults. More evidence is needed, as there are currently competing studies: One published in Nature Medicine in June shows 20 years of age may be the cut-off point, with those younger than 20 having about half the susceptibility to infection as those older than 20 years. A different study, however, showed children over 10 years of age as having infection rates similar to adults.
Adults are more likely to infect children than the other way around
While experts aren’t sure if children transmit the virus at the same rates as adults, several studies have found that a majority of COVID-19 transmissions between children and adults occurred from adults to children, and not from children to adults. Young children in particular are less likely to be the source of infection in households where people test positive for COVID-19.
Children are less likely to be tested for COVID-19
Children are less likely to be tested for the virus for a few key reasons, including the fact that testing in the U.S. has focused mostly on symptomatic patients with more severe symptoms. Kids are more likely to be asymptomatic or have less severe symptoms if they do appear to have contracted COVID-19. The lack of testing means the data of how children are impacted by the virus is also lacking.