Children Aged 10-19 Spread Coronavirus as Much as Adults, New Study Finds

The large study found that household transmission of the coronavirus "was high" for patients between 10 and 19 years of age

A teacher checks temperature of students at a high school
A teacher checks temperature of students at a high school. Photo: Getty

As U.S. school officials continue to debate whether to reopen schools come fall, a new study out of South Korea has found that children aged 10 to 19 can spread the novel coronavirus just as much as adults.

The large study, published by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, reports that household transmission of the coronavirus “was high” for patients between 10 and 19 years of age. Household transmission rates were lowest for patients aged 0 to 9.

To reach their conclusions, researchers analyzed reports for 59,073 contacts of 5,706 coronavirus patients in South Korea between January 20 and March 27.

The study “is very carefully done, it’s systematic and looks at a very large population,” Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told The New York Times. “It’s one of the best studies we’ve had to date on this issue.”

Schools stay virtual
An empty classroom. Getty

The results come as school officials across the country are weighing whether or not to reopen schools for the upcoming academic year. Some areas, including the state of Florida, have already pledged to reopen, while Los Angeles and San Diego counties have announced that all schooling will be virtual in the fall.

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump threatened to cut off federal funding to schools that do not reopen for on-campus learning, which he urged along with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Trump’s push goes against recommendations from the CDC, and Vice President Mike Pence said earlier this month that the CDC would issue new guidance on reopening schools — with "more clarity" — that aligns with the administration's position. But he said the choice would ultimately be made at the local level.

The South Korean study said that the researchers' results regarding coronavirus transmission amid school reopenings “underscores the need for a time-sensitive epidemiologic study to guide public health policy.”

“Contact tracing is especially important in light of upcoming future SARS-CoV-2 waves, for which social distancing and personal hygiene will remain the most viable options for prevention,” the study said. “Understanding the role of hygiene and infection control measures is critical to reducing household spread, and the role of masking within the home, especially if any family members are at high risk, needs to be studied.”

“I fear that there has been this sense that kids just won’t get infected or don’t get infected in the same way as adults and that, therefore, they’re almost like a bubbled population,” Michael Osterholm, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Minnesota, told The New York Times, warning that if schools reopen the coronavirus will spread.

“There will be transmission,” he added. “What we have to do is accept that now and include that in our plans.”

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