As kids head back to school – in-person or virtually – debate continues about how safe it is for children to interact with one another and with adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. While there is now a consensus that children are at relatively low risk for severe illness resulting from COVID-19, how likely they are to be infected but asymptomatic and how well infected asymptomatic children can transmit the virus to others are still unclear.
Data are growing on the prevalence of COVID-19 infection amongst asymptomatic children due to testing occurring when children are hospitalized for other conditions or undergoing surgery. Indeed, most hospitals are testing even asymptomatic patients before conducting certain procedures. These data can offer some insight into how likely an asymptomatic child is to be infected with COVID-19.
Researchers have evaluated such data on over 33,000 asymptomatic children tested for the virus across 28 children’s hospitals during the pandemic. Of these children, 0.65% – or well under 1% – tested positive for the virus. These data, which come from a Johns Hopkins University database, may provide some comfort that the infection rate among asymptomatic children is likely to be quite low.
According to experts, these types of data could be useful at local levels to help decision makers understand the risks surrounding child infection rates and the potential for transmission within the community. Indeed, if asymptomatic children tend not to be infected in a given community, it may be much easier to justify in-person schooling than if asymptomatic children are infected at higher rates.
A missing piece, however, is data on how well even infected children can transmit the virus to others. If it turns out that their transmission capacity is quite low as well, then it will become easier to quell fears about the least vulnerable population posing risk to the more vulnerable populations.