An eight-month-old at one facility transmitted COVID-19 to both parents, and another infected parent required hospitalization, researchers said.
Children older than 10 who contract the novel coronavirus spread it at roughly the same rate as adults, but less is known about the transmission rates of younger children. This is a critical concern, especially as child-care centers and day-care facilities reopen and parents return to work.
A study published Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found young children at day care programs in Utah who contracted the virus spread it to at least 26% of the people they encountered later, within and likely beyond their households. The data emphasizes the role children play in transmitting the virus from their educational environments to their households.
It “definitively indicates—in a way that previous studies have struggled to do—the potential for transmission to family members,” William Hanage, a Harvard University infectious diseases researcher, told the Associated Press.
Researchers from Utah and the CDC looked at coronavirus outbreaks at three Salt Lake City daycare facilities this spring. From April 1–July 10, 2020, 10 adults and 12 children had confirmed COVID-19 cases stemming from the facilities. Of the children, whose average age was 7, nine had mild symptoms and three were asymptomatic. They in turn transmitted the virus to at least 12 non-facility contacts (defined as anyone who was within 6 feet of a person with COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes less than 2 days before the patient’s symptom onset)—mostly their mothers and siblings they lived with at home.
That’s an infection rate of 25%, although it’s likely that the children infected others beyond the confirmed number.
Earlier studies conducted in the US, China, and Europe suggested children are less likely to become infected with the virus than adults, have a lower rate of serious illness when they do get sick, and that younger children don’t spread the virus very often.
In fact, President Donald Trump has often pointed to those earlier studies to justify championing the full reopening of schools. Referring to children, Trump told Fox & Friends: “The fact is they are virtually immune from this problem.”
Research has shown that is not the case.
This newer data challenges the idea that younger children have a lower risk of spreading the illness. An 8-month-old at one facility transmitted COVID-19 to both parents, and another infected parent required hospitalization, researchers said.
It’s not yet clear if the Salt Lake City findings are broadly applicable. Researchers did not perform a genetic analysis of individual infections and widespread testing of children has not been conducted.
Still, day cares, camps, and other programs must be especially diligent about enforcing masks, frequent disinfection, and social distancing. Regular testing of employees and children, regardless of whether or not they are displaying symptoms, is also vital to limiting the spread of the virus in those places.
The epidemic could get worse and more complicated this fall, said Dr. David Kimberlin, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“This should be another wake up call to all of us that we need to be diligent and all do our part,” he said.
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