As school districts around the country begin to reveal reopening guidelines for when students return to classrooms in the fall, many parents are concerned about how the coronavirus could impact their children.
The White House has provided confusing statements. Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Thursday “science should not stand in the way” of schools reopening and “science is on our side.”
A compilation of studies and articles published in JAMA Pediatrics found most patients under the age of 18 with COVID-19, the illness caused by SARS-CoV-2, tend to have mild symptoms and fully recover within one to two weeks – quicker than most adults.
While this may alleviate some concerns, medical experts say parents shouldn’t let their guard down. Children can still be carriers of the virus and facilitate spread in their communities.
Whether your child is entering preschool or high school, here’s what you should know about the coronavirus and how it can impact your family.
Can children carry the coronavirus and spread it?
“I think the answer is conclusively, without a doubt – yes,” said Dr. Lara Shekerdemian, chief of critical care at Texas Children’s Hospital.
Surveillance screening, which is testing all children admitted to the hospital, has revealed a higher percentage of them carrying the virus and not showing any symptoms, she said.
The trend is consistent with data from Florida. About one-third of children tested in the state for COVID-19 returned positive results, which is higher than the overall statewide positivity rate of 11%, according to state data.
While there has yet to be hard data to prove asymptomatic spread – transmitting the virus without displaying any symptoms – Shekerdemian said there’s nothing to suggest “the lack of symptoms doesn’t mean you don’t transmit it.”
“There’s no doubt they can be asymptomatic. Do they carry (the virus) more often than adults?” she said. “That’s a hard one to answer. There isn’t enough surveillance going on in the community.”
Dr. Megan Culler Freeman, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, said nose swab studies have shown children have the same amount of viral load in their noses as adults.
However, children are more likely to have only mild symptoms, which may not be noticeable to child or parent. Shekerdemian says by being healthier, children can actually be more dangerous as they’re less likely to stay at home sick and more likely to go out into the world unknowingly spreading the virus.
What age group is more at risk for COVID-19?
There was no difference in children age groups two or three months ago, Shekerdemian said, but now doctors are seeing more older kids in the hospital for COVID-19.
She suspects this may be due to teenagers and young adults socializing outside of their houses as businesses reopen. However, she said there’s no data available to support that these older children get sicker or are more at risk for the disease.
Should kids wear masks?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all children 2 years old and older wear a mask or cloth covering.
Freeman urges parents not to put masks on children younger than 2 as they can suffocate. “If you’re out with your small child, it’s safer to keep them away from others as opposed to covering their face,” she said.
Some question whether younger children have the discipline to keep masks on during school while out of their parents’ supervision, but Shekerdemian says kids deserve more credit. “Children are very conscious of what their peers are doing (and) most parents see that their children are way more disciplined at school than at home,” she said.
While it’s also up to schools to encourage such kind of behavior, Shekerdemian says mask-wearing has become normal for most kids. “(They) adapt to new things often more quickly than adults do because they tend not to question it,” she said.
Are COVID symptoms in kids any different from adults?
COVID-19 symptoms in children are much milder than adults, Freeman said.
The most common symptoms among children are cough, shortness of breath and fever. Cough and shortness of breath occurs in about half of children known to be infected, and fever occurs in about one-third, she said. Sometimes children have a loss of appetite or vomiting – or they don’t exhibit any symptom at all.
Boston’s Children’s Hospital recommends parents look out for these symptoms and call their health care provider if they suspect their child is sick:
How many kids have died from COVID?
Freeman said fewer than half a percent of children who are infected with the coronavirus have died. Data from the spring also showed infected children under the age of 19 made up only 5% of total infections, she said.
She notes this may be because children haven’t had the chance to socialize the way adults have since schools were closed early on in the pandemic.
“A lot of their social networks are decreased,” she said. “We’re not going to know how that behavior is going to drive infection until we (reopen schools).”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: Can kids spread COVID-19? Your COVID questions, answered