Children represent only a tiny minority of confirmed cases – less than 1% of positive tests in China were children under the age of nine. It is likely that a larger pelvis becomes infected but shows only mild or no symptoms. Among those who tested positive, almost 6% developed a very serious illness, according to an evaluation of 2000 patients under 18 in Wuhan, children under five and babies being at the highest risk.
An important unknown is the severity of the infection in children, assuming that many get infected. Initial data suggests that approximately 50% of transmission in the pandemic in general has involved asymptomatic individuals and children may be in this group.
“It seems very plausible to me that they are infected but have a low risk of developing a disease,” said Professor Peter Smith, epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “We know that for influenza, children are important transmitters of infection, which is the basis of the flu vaccination program for children, but we don’t yet know how important they are as a child. coronavirus transmitters. Therefore, the closure of schools would be based on the assumption that they make an important contribution to transmission. “
The rates of various illnesses increase and decrease at the start and end of the school term. The school holidays would have caused a plateau during the 2009 swine flu pandemic. Hygiene and social distancing measures, such as washing hands and reducing physical contact, are simply not very effective in a yard. primary recreation. Schools may therefore act as a local source of infection for the surrounding area.
“Every mother and father knows that when children go back to school, they will get colds, flu and sore throats,” said Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia.
This uncertain science needs to be carefully weighed against certain disruptions and costs of school closings, including the removal of large numbers of doctors and nurses from the workplace, and unintended consequences such as grandparents , who are among the most vulnerable, who care for children and face greater exposure.