As the debate about reopening schools continues in the United States, a new study has found that young children can carry significantly higher levels of the novel coronavirus than adults.
Children under the age of five can have between 10 to 100 times the amount of the virus in their noses and throats, according to a new study published by JAMA Pediatrics last week.
From March 23 to April 27, researchers in Chicago performed nose swab tests on 145 patients who experienced mild to moderate symptoms within a week after symptoms began. The patients were then divided into three groups. The first group has 46 children under the age of 5, the second group had 51 kids between the ages of 5-17, and the third group consisted of 48 adults aged 18-65.
The small study did not indicate whether any of the patients had pre-existing health conditions. And, it didn't test for the live virus, but for the presence of coronavirus genetic material.
Although the findings do not indicate that young children are more contagious than adults, they show that kids “can potentially be important drivers” in transmission — which is something researchers believe officials should consider when making decisions about the upcoming school year.
“The school situation is so complicated,” lead author Dr. Taylor Heald-Sargent, pediatric infectious diseases expert at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, told The New York Times.
“We can’t assume that just because kids aren’t getting sick, or very sick, that they don’t have the virus,” Heald-Sargent added.
In the study, researchers also pointed out that the fact that schools have been closed for the majority of the health crisis may have impacted initial research, which has indicated that children were less likely to spread COVID-19.
The latest findings came on the heels of a large study from South Korea, which reported that household transmission of the coronavirus “was high” for patients between 10 and 19 years of age.
As this new data is emerging, school officials across the country are weighing whether or not to reopen schools.
President Donald Trump, a staunch advocate for reopening, has even threatened to cut off federal funding to schools that do not reopen for on-campus learning — which goes against recommendations from the CDC.
A letter published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine stressed that while reopening schools can be done, attention needs to be paid to controlling outbreaks.
“Any region experiencing moderate, high, or increasing levels of community transmission should do everything possible to lower transmission,” the authors wrote. “Such measures along with universal mask wearing must be implemented now in the United States if we are to bring case numbers down to safe levels for elementary schools to reopen this fall nationwide.”
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