South Korean study says children 10 and older transmit the virus at least as easily as adults

South Korean study says children 10 and older transmit the virus at least as easily as adults

They don’t get severe cases at the same rate adults do, of course. You can look at the hospitalization and mortality data by age in any state and see that younger people are more likely to have mild outcomes from infection. The fear isn’t that 12-year-olds are going to end up in the ICU if they go back to class this fall.

The fear is that mom and dad are going to end up in the ICU after junior gets infected at school and brings the virus home to them.

And yes, that basic point does need to be restated on occasion because some very powerful people seem unable to grasp it, even five months into this nightmare.

The South Korean study tried to gauge children’s infectiousness based on circumstantial evidence, by looking at several thousand people who were the first in their households to report symptoms and then doing contact tracing to try to determine where they got the virus. That can be tricky with kids since they’re apparently less likely to have symptoms themselves, but scientists who spoke to the Times about the study were impressed by its rigor and methodology. Result:

Children under 10 were roughly half as likely as adults to spread the virus to others, consistent with other studies. That may be because children generally exhale less air — and therefore less virus-laden air — or because they exhale that air closer to the ground, making it less likely that adults would breathe it in.

Even so, the number of new infections seeded by children may rise when schools reopen, the study authors cautioned. “Young children may show higher attack rates when the school closure ends, contributing to community transmission of Covid-19,” they wrote. Other studies have also suggested that the large number of contacts for schoolchildren, who interact with dozens of others for a good part of the day, may cancel out their smaller risk of infecting others…

The study is more worrisome for children in middle and high school. This group was even more likely to infect others than adults were, the study found. But some experts said that finding may be a fluke or may stem from the children’s behaviors.

The results of this study were published over the weekend and haven’t penetrated the culture widely yet. I’m sitting here wondering what’ll happen to support for reopening schools once it does. There’s been a hope/suspicion for the past several months that children are broadly immune to infection because they so seldom develop severe cases. If that’s not true then the trend towards keeping schools closed — at least middle schools and high schools — will accelerate. Here’s where things stand today:

Support for fully reopening, as Trump wants to do, is very soft and destined to become softer. Even Republicans can’t reach a plurality in favor. There’s a gender divide too, with 55 percent of men in favor of at least partially reopening schools versus just 36 percent of women. (Ironically, men are more likely to die from COVID-19 than women are.) In fact, a near-majority of women, 48 percent, want schools closed or online-only. The South Korean study and America’s protracted failure to get control of the epidemic is going to continue to push people towards keeping things closed down.

Which may lead us towards an outcome that’s dystopian even by 2020 standards. We may end up with a three-tiered educational system this fall. For the poor kids, who don’t have computers and speedy Internet and whose parents work jobs that can’t be done from home, classroom instruction — and the higher risk of infection risk it brings — may be the only option. For more upscale kids, who do have computers and parents whose work can be done remotely, remote learning with its many inadequacies may be the way to go. And for the really upscale kids, whose parents have money to burn, there may be concierge service. Why send your child to school when you can bring the school to him or her?

Fed up with remote education, parents who can pay have a new plan for fall: import teachers to their homes…

Across the country, families are gathering with strangers in Facebook groups and friends over text messages to make matches. Teachers are being recruited, sometimes furtively, to work with small clusters of children. A Facebook group dedicated to helping families connect and learn how to do this drew 3,400 members in nine days, with at least seven local groups already spun off.

“This is a thing now,” said Phil Higgins, a psychotherapist in Salem, Mass., who joined with two other families to hire a woman to create a “pseudo summer camp” for their four children this summer. They are now considering hiring this woman, who normally works as a school-based behavioral specialist, as a teacher for 40 hours per week during the school year. She would help the kids work through their school-offered remote learning.

I’m grimly fascinated by the potential repercussions for the teaching industry. Are school districts going to get into bidding wars for teachers with clusters of rich families who’ve banded together in “learning pods”? If you’re a teacher who’s not under contract, how do you say no to an offer of $100,000 for the year to teach, say, six kids at someone’s spacious, well-appointed home? (That’s how much it can cost to lure a teacher away from a public school, an education consultant told WaPo.) What happens to the local public school if there are enough rich parents around to poach a meaningful number of teachers from their faculty? Do the poor kids just … not get educated?

Can the school district threaten to blackball teachers who are considering jumping ship in order to discourage them from doing so? E.g., “You won’t be rehired after there’s a vaccine if you bail on us now.” And what happens to the “learning pod” if school is closed through the fall but then we get a vaccine or some effective treatment and things reopen in January? Does the teacher get his/her full salary for the year from the parents or do they go back to school too — assuming the school will even take them back?

The WaPo story is fun for the many quotes from parents wrestling with the fairness, and unfairness, of the “learning pod” scheme. One said she’d quit her job and teach her kid herself before she hired a teacher because the latter scheme is just too privileged. Others take the view that you should do the very best for your children that you can, and if that means you can hire a teacher for them while their poorer classmates have to do without then that’s what it means. Some navel-gazed about how they’d hire a teacher but would feel guilty about the narrow class confines of their social circle ‘n stuff. The truly dystopian stage will arrive when/if this idea takes off nationally and suddenly there’s a run on teachers in every upper-middle-class community. “I just heard that Mr. Harris and Mrs. Jones are off the market, snapped up by learning pods in that new gated community. We need to hire someone now before there’s no one left.” If you thought people behaved irrationally and desperately about hoarding toilet paper back in March, wait until you see how they react to hoarding professional instruction for their precious children.

One last point about reopening schools. Bloomberg reported a few days ago that kids and teens represent a “ballooning” percentage of COVID-19 infections in the U.S. In California the share of infections across the population among under-18s is approaching 10 percent. In Florida, 31 percent of all children tested have been positive. Much of that is a function of increased testing: Now that tests are more plentiful, kids with few or no symptoms who would have gone undetected a few months ago are being tested and found positive. That doesn’t mean that kids who are largely asymptomatic are necessarily as infectious as everyone else, but they’re clearly very capable of being infected. And if you believe South Korean scientists, above a certain age they’re quite capable of passing it on.

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