WASHINGTON — Children under the age of 12 are much less likely than teenagers to contract the coronavirus, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published on Monday. The study adds nuance to prior findings that the risk of contracting and dying of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, increases with age. The reasons for the correlation are not yet entirely understood.
The new study also found that Hispanic children were hit hardest by the coronavirus, composing 42 percent of all cases for which ethnic data was available. That highlighted another uncomfortable truth about the pandemic: People of color have been disproportionately affected by both its medical and economic ravages.
Masked schoolchildren at Rogers International School in Stamford, Conn., on Sept. 23. (John Moore/Getty Images)
The new study does, however, appear to bolster the arguments of those who say that children should return to school instead of continuing with what has been, according to many accounts, a disastrous national experiment in distance learning. New York City has returned some children to school buildings and is expected to ramp up in-person instruction by the end of the week.
Officials in Washington, D.C. — where the president has been loudly calling for schools to reopen — have also told principals to prepare for reopening school doors in November.
CDC researchers analyzed data from early March, when schools across the country began to shut down, to mid-September, by which time many states had opened schools either partially or fully for in-person instruction. The researchers found that of the roughly 280,000 children who tested positive for COVID-19 during that time, 63 percent were between the ages of 12 and 17. Thirty-seven percent were ages 5 to 11.
“Incidence among adolescents was approximately double that among young children,” the study concludes. That seems to bolster the case for in-person instruction for elementary schoolchildren, who appear to struggle the most with computer-based remote learning. High school students, who are better equipped to utilize online learning platforms and less likely to require adult supervision, could presumably delay returning to classrooms longer because they are at a higher risk of becoming ill.
Kids were most likely to be infected by the coronavirus in the Southeast and the West, regions where some governors were slow to impose lockdown measures and quick to lift them.
Masked children line up at a safe social distance before heading into a lunchroom at Woodland Elementary School in Milford, Mass., on Sept. 11. (Suzanne Kreiter/Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Children for the most part had mild infections, with only 1.2 percent hospitalized and 0.1 percent requiring intensive care. During the six months accounted for by the study, 51 children died of COVID-19, making for a fatality rate of 0.018 percent. About a quarter of both ICU admissions and fatalities were for children who had underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, obesity and breathing problems.
The report did not speculate on why Hispanic children, who make up 25 percent of the nation’s population of children between the ages of 5 and 17, would suffer at a rate — 42 percent — much higher than their share of the population. Black children represented 17 percent of coronavirus cases and 14 percent of the relevant population. White children, about 50 percent of the population studied, accounted for 32 percent of the cases.
Public health experts have suggested several reasons for these disparities, including the dearth of green space, adequate preventive health care and unhealthful food options in many communities of color. Hispanic adults, in particular, are likely to hold essential jobs that put them and their families at greater risk.
The prevalence of multigenerational households, whether for cultural or economic reasons, could also be a factor in facilitating viral spread.
The study calls for monitoring and mitigation strategies as communities across the country seek safe ways to reopen schools — and keep them open. A CDC guidance initially published in July said that “in-person schooling is in the best interest of students.” The bevy of studies published since then have not fundamentally challenged that assertion.
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