Back to school: kids’ risk of getting and spreading COVID-19.

As return to school gets closer, you probably have questions about what we know about kids and COVID-19. Here are some answers to just a few.

How many kids have been infected?

Overall, kids are less likely to get infected than adults; kids under 10 appear to be at the lowest risk of getting infected. In the US, kids under 18 make up about 7% of all COVID-19 cases  (although they make up 24% of the US population). Studies in Europe, which looked for antibodies that indicate a past infection, found that about 3% of children under 10 may have been infected, compared to 5% of adults, using one kind of test. It’s not clear if there’s something about being young that protects against infection. Or maybe young kids are less likely to be in situations where they might be exposed to COVID, since many schools have been closed.

How serious is COVID-19 in kids?

Children are less likely to develop symptoms than adults. And symptoms are usually mild. However, pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome and hospitalizations do occur in children. These serious complications are rare. Due to limited data collection in pediatric populations, we can’t estimate exactly how rare it is.

Can kids die from COVID-19?

Deaths in children are rare in general. So far, less than 0.1% of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have been among children. That’s fewer than 237 children and adolescents of the first 118,899 people to die in the US from COVID.

Can kids spread COVID-19?

It’s not clear if kids spread COVID-19 as much as adults do. It’s possible that children under 10 may not spread COVID as effectively. Studies of younger children in schools have found low rates of transmission in areas with low case numbers. However, there have been outbreaks linked to teens in schools. And recent research shows that infected children have at least as much of the virus in their nose and throats as adults. Since that’s how the virus spreads, it seems logical to think that kids can spread the virus the same as adults. And the research done so far doesn’t rule it out.

What might this mean for schools?

The differences in infection and transmission might require separate approaches for elementary and high school age students in returning to school. Though kids might be at lower risk of getting sick, schools have to account for the possibility that they can get others sick.

The most important factor to consider for school reopenings is the number of cases in your surrounding community. Fewer cases mean a lower risk for everyone. If there are many people with COVID in your town or county, opening schools will almost certainly lead to more cases of COVID. So continue to social distance, avoid indoor crowds, wear a mask, and wash your hands. The fewer the cases in your community, the more likely kids will be able to go back to school safely.


Last update:  August 4, 2020 10:15 pm
Science review: JAB, ERS