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What we know about children and COVID-19

  • What we know about children and COVID-19

    As we approach the start of a new school year in the United States, the issue of how COVID-19 affects children is of major consequence. The U.S. is in a unique position that makes sending students back to school particularly daunting: We have the highest rates of COVID-19 with nearly 4.4 million cases as of July 31, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Surging cases, high levels of community transmission, insufficient testing, and poor contract tracing in the U.S. make it difficult to compare school reopenings with countries where the virus is more controlled.

    There are still unknowns about how COVID-19 impacts children, but a growing body of studies shed some light. Children who contract COVID-19 are more likely to show mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, though a very small number have come down with Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C), a rare COVID-19 related condition that doctors don’t fully understand. It’s also unclear if children are less likely to be infected and whether, once infected, they transmit COVID-19 at the same levels as adults.

    While researchers fill in the gaps of our knowledge, some concrete facts about children and COVID-19 have emerged. Stacker compiled a review of facts and statistics about how COVID-19 relates to children in the U.S. from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other public health sources. For the purposes of these statistics, children are considered to be anyone in the population younger than 18.

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  • Children account for 7% of COVID-19 cases in the US

    Children 17 and younger account for 7.2% of reported COVID-19 cases as of July 30, 2020. Children aged 0–4 make up 1.6% of cases, while those 5–17 make up 5.6% of cases, pointing to an age gradient of susceptibility to the disease.

  • Children account for 1% of reported COVID-19 hospitalizations in the US

    Children account for 1% of COVID-19 hospitalizations, demonstrating that most infected children experience less-severe COVID-19 symptoms than adults. Milder symptoms—or no symptoms at all—mean children don’t require medical intervention at the rates of adults.

  • Children account for under 1% of reported COVID-19 deaths in the US

    Children are 22% of the U.S. population but make up less than 1% of the country’s deaths. Both age ranges reported by the CDC—ages 0–4 and ages 5–17—are less than 0.1% of all COVID-19 deaths.

  • Over 90% of children with COVID-19 have no or mild symptoms

    An expert panel reported that, of children who contract COVID-19, more than 90% will have no symptoms or mild symptoms. Those who do have symptoms are likely to experience mild upper respiratory issues in the nose, sinus, and throat—as opposed to adults who often also suffer lower respiratory symptoms of the lungs.

  • 342 children in the US have contracted Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome

    Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C) is a rare condition that is still not fully understood. There have been 342 cases reported as of July 15, 2020. Most children have recovered, but there are six reported deaths. Some children develop the syndrome weeks after contracting COVID-19, but others have developed MIS-C seemingly without having a prior COVID-19 infection.


  • Children under 10 are less susceptible to infection

    There is early evidence that children under the age of 10 are significantly less susceptible to infection than adults when experiencing the same exposure to COVID-19. This supports findings that showed the virus didn’t spread as much in elementary schools compared with middle and high schools.

  • Older children may be infected at rates similar to adults

    While children younger than 10 are less susceptible to infection, older children may be at the same risk level as adults. More evidence is needed, as there are currently competing studies: One published in Nature Medicine in June shows that 20 years of age may be the cut-off point, with those under 20 having about half the susceptibility to infection as those over 20 years. A different study, however, showed children over 10 years of age as having infection rates similar to adults.

  • Adults are more likely to infect children than the other way around

    While experts aren’t sure if children transmit the virus at the same rates as adults, several studies have found that a majority of COVID-19 transmissions between children and adults occurred from adults to children, and not from children to adults. Young children in particular are less likely to be the source of infection in households where people test positive for COVID-19.

  • Children are less likely to be tested for COVID-19

    Children are less likely to be tested for the virus for a few key reasons, including the fact that testing in the U.S. has focused mostly on symptomatic patients with more severe symptoms. Kids are more likely to be asymptomatic or have less severe symptoms if they do appear to have contracted COVID-19. The lack of testing means the data of how children are impacted by the virus is also lacking.

  • Children may be left out of contact tracing investigations

    Since kids are less likely to show COVID-19 symptoms, they are often not identified as the “index” case (the first in a group of linked cases, or, patient zero) in contract tracing efforts. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports this could mean the role children play in transmission of the virus could be “underrecognized.”


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