Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidelines earlier this week outlining how to safely reopen schools this fall in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study suggests that reopening comes with health hazards.
According to researchers from the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, kids may be just as likely as adults to spread coronavirus, which could impact many states’ reopening plans.
“Our study was not designed to prove that younger children spread COVID-19 as much as adults, but it is a possibility,” said researcher Dr. Taylor Heald-Sargent. “We need to take that into account in efforts to reduce transmission as we continue to learn more about this virus.”
Monitoring the spread
Because schools closed at the start of the pandemic, the researchers don’t have as much information about how the school environment plays a role in the spread of the virus. However, their study aimed to discover if and how kids could spread the virus to others.
The researchers divided 145 participants into three age groups that included kids under five, those aged five to 17, and those between 18 and 65 to best determine how much of a factor age can be in the spread of the coronavirus. All of the participants experienced moderate symptoms for one week, at which point the researchers determined that their illness was mild.
The researchers then monitored the participants’ viral nucleic acid, which is a measure of the virus’ ability to multiply in the body and infect other people.
The findings revealed that kids under the age of five had exponentially higher levels of viral nucleic acid than the adults and older kids involved in the study. The researchers observed little difference in viral nucleic acid levels between older children and adults.
Though the young kids’ symptoms remained mild throughout the course of their illness, the risk for infecting others was still present. The researchers say these findings should certainly come into the conversation as lawmakers and school officials continue planning for the upcoming school year.
“We found that children under five with COVID-19 have a higher viral load than older children and adults, as we see with respiratory syncytial virus, also known as RSV,” said Dr. Heald-Sargent. “This has important public health implications, especially during discussions on the safety of reopening schools and daycare.”