TAMPA, Fla. - In the heated debate over reopening schools, many are still unsure if, and to what degree, children can spread COVID-19 to each other, their teachers, or their families.
New research shows younger kids are less likely to be infected, but that’s not the case with middle and high schoolers. South Korean researchers analyzed nearly 65,000 people who had COVID-19 or were exposed, and found children over the age of 10 can spread the virus just like adults.
“We see that the disease severity seems to be lower in children, so I think people are kinda taking that as a false sense of security that this is going to be OK,” said University of South Florida Department of Internal Medicine associate professor Dr. Michael Teng.
But the new study has sparked concerns about students infecting each other, and worse.
“So now you have to worry about them spreading it not only to family members, and potentially older family members, you have to remember that a number of our teachers are over 50, over 60, we have some people who are older who are teaching and they need to feel comfortable in the classroom as well,” Teng said.
Thousands of kids and teens across the state have already contracted COVID-19. The latest total from the Florida Department of Health is 23,170, with 13.4% of those tested coming back positive.
Currently, the National Institutes of Health is tracking thousands of families to determine if children infected with the virus develop symptoms and spread it to other family members. Experts say those details need to be considered when comparing the results of the South Korean research to our country.
“They have, you see, measures for the mask, for the tracing, for the isolation which are very, very strong,” said Dr. Christian Brechot, president of the Global Virus Network. “And we do not necessarily have the same in the U.S.”
Experts say implementing physical distancing, good hand hygiene, and mask mandates inside classrooms will be key. Schools need to be prepared for infections to pop up and should rely on scientific studies and local health officials to help make informed reopening plans.
“The scientific landscape must be incorporated into the whole conversation and decisions,” Brechot said.
“And if we don’t have these flexible plans and we have a one-size-fits-all plan, I think it’s going to be a recipe for trouble,” said Teng.
So far, there is no clear reason why there is less spread of the virus among younger kids. However, there is speculation it might have to do with their smaller size or stem from their behaviors.