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Kids returning to in-person school face an increased risk for COVID-19, but so do their families. FatCamera/Getty Images
  • Many schools around the country are cautiously beginning to allow children to return to in-person classes.
  • As children head back to school, parents may have questions about whether their families are at risk.
  • Experts say kids can develop COVID-19, and there have been cases where they’ve transmitted it to adults.
  • While it usually causes mild disease in children, it’s rarely fatal.
  • One basic way to help protect children is to emphasize the importance of handwashing, physical (social) distancing, and mask wearing.

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date.

With schools around the United States beginning to cautiously return their students to on-campus classes, many parents have questions.

They want to know whether their children will be prone to getting COVID-19.

In addition, there are concerns as to whether they might transmit it to their families, friends, and teachers.

Here’s what we currently know about COVID-19 and children.

Dr. Lisa Gwynn, an associate professor of clinical pediatrics and public health sciences at the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami, said that yes, children can get COVID-19.

However, according to Brian Labus, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the infection rates in children are low.

Adults over age 75 have 10 times the rate of infection of children, said Labus.

Adults under 45 have 5 times the rate of infection.

“When children do get infected,” explained Labus, “they tend to have a very mild disease compared to adults.”

Gwynn said that children can transmit COVID-19 to adults.

She noted that children ages 10 and older are especially able to transmit the illness to the adults around them.

While there’s limited information regarding children younger than 10, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report on September 18 indicating that younger children can transmit the virus to adults as well.

The report cited one case in which an 8-month-old child transmitted the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, to both parents.

Another child at the same day care facility who contracted the virus was 8 years old.

Both children had mild signs and symptoms, including runny nose, fatigue, and fever.

The report included information about 12 children who had developed COVID-19 at three different child care facilities.

Transmission, either confirmed or probable, was shown to have occurred to 46 people outside of the facilities, including one parent who had to be hospitalized.

Also, two children who had confirmed COVID-19 but were asymptomatic were shown to have transmitted the disease to adults.

“For the vast majority of children, COVID-19 presents as a very mild disease or with no symptoms at all,” Gwynn said.

However, it can be serious for children with underlying health problems, she said.

Gwynn added that the COVID-19 death rate for children is very low. Only 71 of 190,000 deaths through the end of July occurred in children.

When children do die from COVID-19, it’s usually due to either complications from underlying conditions or a condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), according to Labus.

MIS-C is a condition in which multiple parts of the body, such as the heart, kidneys, lungs, skin, gastrointestinal organs, or eyes, become inflamed.

The CDC states that it’s unknown exactly what causes MIS-C, but it’s been linked to COVID-19.

Labus emphasized that MIS-C is quite rare. Through July, only 570 cases have been reported in the United States.

In addition, many children can recover from MIS-C with medical care.

Gwynn’s advice to parents is first to make sure children are following the basics of infection control.

They should be wearing masks properly (mouth and nose covered), maintaining physical distancing, and washing their hands, she said.

Labus suggested that parents look to the CDC’s guidance as children begin to return to the classroom.

While not an all-inclusive list, some of the recommendations made by the CDC include:

  • Check in with your child daily to monitor them for any signs of illness, such as a cough, fever, of vomiting.
  • Talk with your child about safety protocols, such as washing hands, wearing masks, and maintaining physical distancing.
  • Make sure your child is up to date on vaccines, including the flu vaccine.
  • Familiarize yourself with your school’s COVID-19 action plan.
  • If your child has had close contact with someone who has COVID-19, keep them home.
  • Make note where you can obtain testing in the event that your child does become sick.
  • Create a routine for your family to make sure they’re always prepared with items like hand sanitizer and spare masks.
  • Create a plan for how you’ll protect any household members who are at greater risk for severe illness.
  • Be prepared in the event that your school has to close or to impose a period of quarantine on your child.
  • Make sure the emergency information you have on file with your school is up to date.
  • Speak with your school about their plans for any special services that your child uses, such as speech therapy or tutoring.
  • Be aware that your child will need to wear a mask and maintain physical distancing if they’re riding the school bus or carpooling with other kids.

While the hope is that everyone’s hard work in preventing COVID-19 will keep everyone safe and well, parents need to be prepared in the event that cases do develop.

Both Labus and Gwynn suggest looking to your school for guidance. They’ll be in the best position to tell you if your child is safe to return to school or will need to quarantine at home.

Labus noted, however, that just because there’s been a case at your child’s school, this doesn’t mean that your child has been exposed.

If your child does develop symptoms of COVID-19, Labus said it’s important to not send them to school.

“There is no need to rush to the doctor,” he added. “If you wouldn’t normally take your child to the doctor for their illness [mild to moderate symptoms], COVID-19 doesn’t really change that.”

But he added that if your child has underlying health problems, it’s important to talk with his or her doctor for advice.

Talking with your child’s doctor will ensure that you’re responding appropriately.

Once your child has recovered, speak with the school regarding their policy for allowing children to return to classes. They may require a doctor’s release before your child can go back to school.