The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently identified asymptomatic carriers as the primary source of new coronavirus transmissions.
Even without this demographic, which may account for as much as 40% of infected populations, carriers tend to shed the most viral debris before the onset of symptoms. The severity of these symptoms seems to be dictated by age and health status.
Despite outbreaks continuing to appear around the country, some state officials are urging parents to allow their children to attend school next semester.
There isn’t any meaningful literature positively linking daycare and/or primary school attendance with transmission spikes. It has even been argued that children are less likely to pass the novel coronavirus because they’re not exposed to it as often as adults.
“Data gathered worldwide are increasingly suggesting that schools are not hot spots for coronavirus infections. Despite fears, COVID-19 infections did not surge when schools and day-care centres reopened after pandemic lockdowns eased. And when outbreaks do occur, they mostly result in only a small number of people becoming il,” medical reporter, Dyani Lewis added.
The real question is, how closely related is disease severity to transmissibility? Currently, it is theorized that young children do not develop severe manifestations of COVID-19 because of antigen-specific t-cell memory.
T cells are trained to recognize foreign bodies so that they can trigger a stronger immune response after an initial encounter. This process may be fortified in children under the age of 13.
If this is true, it means younger cohorts are more resistant to becoming ill from the novel coronavirus but not from passing it on to others.
In fact, these may pose a greater risk because they will shed viral material without exhibiting characteristic symptoms.
“The concern from a public health perspective is that there is probably a lot of COVID-19 circulating in the community that people don’t even realize,” said Finlay McAlister, a professor of medicine in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry in a media release.
“When we see reports of 1,200 new cases per day in the province of Alberta, that’s likely just the tip of the iceberg — there are likely many people who don’t know they have the disease and are potentially spreading it.”
McAlister conducted a new study that featured 2,463 children who were tested between March and September for COVID-19.
“Research involving children with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection has primarily focused on those presenting to emergency departments. We aimed to determine the symptoms most commonly associated with a positive result for a SARS-CoV-2 swab among community-based children,” the authors wrote in the new paper.
Of the 1,987children, who tested positive, 714 (35.9%) reported being asymptomatic. A comparable majority of children who experienced a sore throat, runny nose, and a persistent cough wound up testing negative for COVID-19 which means the symptoms that are instructive of COVID-19 infection in adults are likely different in younger populations.
Disease presentation in young children appears to more frequently subsume diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
“It speaks to the school safety programs. We can do all the COVID-19 questionnaires we want, but if one-third of the kids are asymptomatic, the answer is going to be no to all the questions — yet they’re still infected,” the authors continued.
“As far as we know, kids are less likely to spread disease than adults, but the risk is not zero. Presumably asymptomatic spreaders are less contagious than the person sitting nearby who is sneezing all over you, but we don’t know that for sure.”
There is still a lot left to uncover on this front, but health experts are aware that some families simply can’t leave their children at home indefinitely.
When circumstance demands traditional scholastic attendance, the CDC recommends the following:
- Implement social distancing strategies
- Intensify cleaning and disinfection efforts
- Modify drop off and pick up procedures
- Implement screening procedures upon arrival
- Maintain an adequate ratio of staff to children to ensure safety.
- Plan ahead and recruit those with child care experience to ensure you have a roster of substitute caregivers who can fill in if your staff members are sick or stay home to care for sick family members.
- When feasible, staff members and older children should wear masks within the facility. Masks should NOT be put on babies and children under age two because of the danger of suffocation.