Study: Teens Spread Virus As Easily As Adults

Written by SK Ashby

The Republican case for reopening schools for full, in-person classes is largely based on the idea that kids not only don't get sick, they also don't spread the virus.

A large study that included 65,000 people in South Korea found that virtually all kids are capable of spreading the virus, but teenagers can spread the virus just as much as adults can.

As it turns out, it's mostly about how physically small or large you are.

Children younger than 10 transmit to others much less often than adults do, but the risk is not zero. And those between the ages of 10 and 19 can spread the virus at least as well as adults do. [...]

Several studies from Europe and Asia have suggested that young children are less likely to get infected and to spread the virus. But most of those studies were small and flawed, said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.

The new study “is very carefully done, it’s systematic and looks at a very large population,” Dr. Jha said. “It’s one of the best studies we’ve had to date on this issue.”

Other experts also praised the scale and rigor of the analysis. South Korean researchers identified 5,706 people who were the first to report Covid-19 symptoms in their households between Jan. 20 and March 27, when schools were closed, and then traced the 59,073 contacts of these “index cases.” They tested all of the household contacts of each patient, regardless of symptoms, but only tested symptomatic contacts outside the household.

The first person in a household to develop symptoms is not necessarily the first to have been infected, and the researchers acknowledged this limitation. Children are also less likely than adults to show symptoms, so the study may have underestimated the number of children who set off the chain of transmission within their households.

The researchers say the only reason small children under 10 do not spread the virus more widely is because they simply exhale less air than larger, more adult human bodies do. That doesn't make them immune, it just means they're a less significant vector for transmission.

Putting lots of small children in a confined space like a classroom, for example, would obviously increase the risk that a greater number of small breaths from smaller bodies could transmit the virus.

It seems to me that any risk is too big of a risk to pack hundreds if not thousands of kids close together and then send them home every day. Maybe the infection rate won't be that high, but would you want to be responsible for making the call that led to even 5 deaths out of 5,000 children? Would you want to be responsible for children losing their parents? Would you want to be responsible for children suffering from a lifelong disability caused by a virus we still have a limited understanding of?

The obvious answer to those questions for most people is going to be 'No' and that's why school boards and local authorities are less gung-ho about reopening than national Republican politicians are.

A lot of what's going to happen next month remains up in the air, but I think we can expect to see Republican governors and legislatures force their schools to resume in-person classes even if local school boards vote against it. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has already mandated as much even though Florida has one of the worst outbreaks in the country where up to 31 percent of children have tested positive even while schools are closed for the summer.