Youth sports and extracurricular activities could be driving new COVID cases, as variants spread

New research shows that school-aged children are playing a large role in spreading COVID-19, as they’re catching the B.1.1.7 variant. Photo by Ivan Radic (CC BY 2.0).

Governor Gavin Newsom is planning for a full reopening of California on June 15. The move would end the state’s colored tier system for counties, but it would retain California’s mask mandate. The reopening depends on getting enough people vaccinated, and keeping case and hospitalization rates low. 

Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases are spiking elsewhere in the country, and variants are making up a larger share of them. That includes the highly infectious U.K. variant, which has been found in all 50 states

“If something is more contagious, it means that the spread becomes potentially exponential,” says Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University. “And if something is contagious, it also means that the activities that we thought were relatively safer before are now going to be higher risk because it's more transmissible.”

But Wen points out that coronavirus variants still use the same methods of transmission, so it’s best to maintain at least six feet of social distancing and to avoid gathering indoors. 

Why kids are driving COVID spread

New research shows that school-aged children are playing a large role in spreading COVID-19, as they’re catching the B.1.1.7 variant. 

Wen says the evidence of children becoming a larger proportion of COVID-19 cases could represent the progress of vaccination efforts. 

“You are going to see younger people become the driver of coronavirus spread and unfortunately, younger people constituting a greater number of people who become severely ill because they're the ones who are not yet vaccinated.”

And although school is back in session in many regions, Wen says youth sports and extracurricular activities are driving spread, as well as playdates and birthday parties. She recommends schools do whatever possible to curb the spread, such as improving ventilation, boosting testing, and ensuring staff are vaccinated. 

“We really need to be looking at our priorities as a society. And if the priority is making sure that schools stay open for in-person instruction, then we should be reducing the risk in all other aspects of our lives.”

Wen estimates that vaccines for children ages 12 and older might be approved by late summer or early fall — ideally by the beginning of the next school year. But she doesn’t expect vaccine availability for younger children until the end of 2021 or sometime in 2022. 

“If we don't have children vaccinated, it's going to be hard for us to reach herd immunity, given the number of children that there are. I do think that it's important for us to try to get children vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Credits

Guest:

  • Dr. Leana Wen - emergency physician, public health professor at George Washington University, and contributing columnist for The Washington Post