New research says kids under age 10 are unlikely to spread COVID. It’s an argument for reopening elementary schools

Social distancing dividers for students are seen in a classroom at St. Benedict School, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Montebello, near Los Angeles, California, U.S., July 14, 2020. Photo by REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

LA County announced this week that schools here can bring up to a quarter of their students back to campus at a time. This applies only to students who need special services, like those with disabilities or who are learning English. Ventura, San Diego and Orange Counties are in a less restrictive tier in the state’s reopening system and have already brought back some students. 

More evidence from the U.S. and Britain now show that young children aren’t spreading COVID-19 as much as people feared, and that online education isn’t as good as in-person instruction. 

“Some of these surveillance data, what they're telling us is that young children don't seem to be … the reason behind outbreaks and behind the spread of coronavirus,” says Brooke Nichols, an infectious disease modeler at the Boston University School of Public Health. 

She says UK data shows that the number of kids under age 10 who had coronavirus did not increase substantially over time, even as they headed into the new academic year. 

“Whereas when you look at children over the age of 10, you do see an increase in prevalence of coronavirus over the same timeframe. And similar data are now coming out from the US as well,” she says. 

Nichols says infections are more likely to start from adults and spread to kids instead of the other way around.

In New York City, schools there have brought back kids — with safety measures such as mask requirements, socially distant desks, and a new ventilation system. But in Britain and the Netherlands, schools reopened with very few changes. So do safety procedures make a difference? 

“We always want to make things safer and reduce the risk,” says Nichols. “And so masks and distancing and ventilation — these are all good things that we should strive for in order to make sure that we all feel comfortable and safe with schools reopening,” Nichols says.

She says she thinks elementary schools should fully reopen as much as possible — with safety measures in place. 

“Most children from Boston public schools have had no in-person education since mid-March. … This will have long-term impacts on children, not only their parents and the economy, but also on the children. And we need to keep that in mind and sort of weigh up what we're valuing and prioritizing in our society as we reopen,” she says. 

— Written by Amy Ta, produced by Kathryn Barnes

Credits

Guest:
Brooke Nichols - infectious disease modeler at the Boston University School of Public Health

Host:
Madeleine Brand

Producers:
Sarah Sweeney, Michell Eloy, Amy Ta, Rosalie Atkinson, Brian Hardzinski, Angie Perrin