It’s an understandable concern based on past experiences with other viral infections, such as influenza and measles, where children are known to be significant transmitters. However, according to several recent publications, infected children are less significant spreaders of COVID-19 and their own source of infection may more likey be symptomatic or pre-symptomatic adults. Adults who contract COVID-19 are infectious for up to 48 hours before symptoms develop.
In the current issue of the journal of Pediatrics, Posfay-Barbe et al. report on contact tracing data gathered in Switzerland in March and April 2020, showing that children <16 years old have only introduced COVID-19 into their households in 3 percent of cases they tracked. In all other cases, the child’s symptoms did not preceed adults in the same family, suggesting that the children were not the source of the infection.
Recently-published data from China, Australia and France also support the argument that children aren’t major transmitters, although another large study from South Korea suggests that while transmission from children under 10 years old was around half as likely as from adults, older children aged 10-19 years may transmit the virus as well as adults do.
According to some mathematical modelling studies, fewer than 5 percent of COVID-19 deaths would be prevented by school closures. This is estimated to be much less than other potential social distancing interventions. And school closures alone are not expected to be enough to stop the pandemic spread. Not only that, but continued school closures are expected to have major adverse effects on children and on the workforce.