New Study Suggests That Young Children Might Be Major Carriers Of COVID-19

Children wave their hands at a private nursery school
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A new study conducted by Northwestern University and Chicago’s Lurie Children’s Hospital released on Thursday in the JAMA Pediatrics medical journal revealed that children could potentially be extremely prone to COVID-19 infection and transmission, possibly even more so than adults, Fortune reported.

“In a study of children under five who show mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19, those kids were found to contain higher concentrations of the virus compared to older children, teens and adults,” stated the publication.

That said, it is true that for most young people who are affected, their symptoms are milder than what grown-ups face when grappling with COVID-19.

Schools across the country are currently struggling to decide whether they should return to in-person teaching or continue online classes until further notice. Even President Donald Trump is adamant that schools and college campuses should reopen come fall, going so far as to threaten cutting federal funding to those who refuse.

Taylor Heald-Sargent, who doubles as an assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University and a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Chicago’s Lurie Children’s Hospital, said that one of the main threads of conversation surrounding the “whole school reopening discussion” is whether “kids are less sick” because they might “have less of the virus.”

Heald-Sargent told Fortune that their “data does not support” the idea that young people are less likely to transmit COVID-19.

“We can’t assume that kids aren’t able to spread the virus.”

For the study, researchers used data collected from over 140 patients in Chicago divided up by demographic with a group for adults, those between 5 and 18, and children under 5. The focus remained solely on those who were experiencing mild to moderate symptoms and excluded everyone else, including those that were very sick or asymptomatic.

Nurse conducts a nasal swab test
  Lisa Maree Williams / Getty Images

Heald-Sargent said they were “surprised” to find that the data collected from the nasal swabs in those patients showed the youngest group had a “statistically significant” viral load compared to the other age groups tested.

Overall, the reaction of children to COVID-19 is still somewhat unfamiliar territory.

“There’s still much to be learned about how most children become infected with the virus, how their immune systems respond to COVID-19, and how they transmit it,” Fortune wrote.

Arguments for and against reopening schools and day-care centers are complicated or “complex and nuanced,” according to the pediatric infectious diseases specialist.

As the outlet further noted, some pediatricians have asserted that young people could be more negatively impacted developmentally and emotionally by taking such long breaks from their friends and leaning environments than by COVID-19.