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  • New research from Israel finds that children up to age 9 have little to do with the spread of the coronavirus.
  • Experts say this means reopening summer camps and in-person classroom instruction is a good idea, and the findings should reassure educators.
  • Experts are split on whether young children need to wear masks to stay safe.

Young children not only are at low risk for developing COVID-19 but also don’t play a significant role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 while attending school, finds a study recently published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA). However, the same might not apply to teens and adolescents.

According to researchers in Israel, children 10–19 years old had a three-fold higher risk of acquiring the coronavirus after returning to school than when they still were at home.

“It appears that young children 0–9 have shown not only in this study but observationally over the last year of the pandemic that this group has little to do with spread of COVID,” Theodore Strange, MD, interim chair of medicine at Staten Island University Hospital in New York, told Healthline.

Schools in Israel opened as usual in September of 2020, despite the COVID-19 outbreak. However, they closed in the middle of the month following a massive COVID-19 outbreak, only to reopen again in November.

Researchers then began analyzing infection rate data from the last week of August until December. They compared incidence rate ratios (IRR) with the COVID-19 test positivity rate (TPR) throughout lockdown and disease outbreaks.

Researchers sought to discover if reopening schools had any effect on the coronavirus infection rate. They focused on determining to what extent the virus impacted two age groups — children between ages 0–9 and 10–19.

They looked at data from more than 47,000 children ages 0–9 years and more than 101,000 youths ages 10–19 years.

They found that children in the youngest age group (0–9) had the lowest increase in the incidence of infection and COVID-19 test positivity during school attendance periods.

“These analyses suggest that children in this age group do not have substantial rates of SARS-CoV-2 infection during school attendance and are supported by previous data that demonstrated lower infection rates and lower transmission potential of this age group,” the study authors wrote.

“This Israeli study reinforces the detailed guidance that the CDC has already issued for schools and for summer camps in the current and recent weeks,” said Sunil Sood, MD, chairman of pediatrics and an infectious diseases specialist at Northwell Health’s South Shore University Hospital in New York.

“So yes, re-opening camps and in-person classes is a good idea,” he continued. “These findings should be reassuring to educators conducting in-person classes in preschool and elementary school classes.”

Sood noted that though the disease prevention measures undertaken in Israel are unknown, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended strategies that included:

  • Cohorting campers/students and staff throughout the day to minimize exposure
  • Maintaining at least 3 feet of physical distancing all while indoors and outside
  • Keeping all campers/students and staff 6 feet apart when outside of cohorts and when eating and drinking
  • Follow hand-sanitizing practices and minimize the possibility of contact transmission by using separate cubbies, books, and toys for each child

Strange emphasized the importance of vaccination to reduce the risk of spreading SARS-CoV-2.

“Children 10 to 20 may be carriers and have a higher likelihood of spreading the disease,” he said. “And therefore, more caution need to be taken with this age group until more vaccinations are done, especially for the most vulnerable.”

Strange also said that vaccination programs might be extended to children age 12 and older over the next month. “This would be a huge benefit to fully opening up schools and camps,” he said.

“It appears that younger children do not need to wear masks and social distancing of 3 feet is likely fine,” said Strange. “The key is to continue to vaccinate all who qualify, especially teachers and others who work in school and camps to minimize any risks.”

However, Sood disagreed.

“This study does not address benefits of mask use and social distancing in a classroom,” he said. “Per CDC, children and the staff do benefit from these measures [mask use].”

The most recent CDC guidelines still recommend mask use for anyone 2 years or older in public settings and when around people who don’t live in their household.​

According to Sood, the role of 10- to 19-year-olds in transmitting the virus cannot be concluded based on data of the rate of spread by adults.

“Which means the risk of reopening may be slightly higher for middle and high schools,” he said. “So, decisions for those schools should take into account whether the community prevalence of infection is still high.”

Sood also thinks that current U.S. policy, based on CDC guidelines, “May be reinforced but not changed by this study.”

New research from Israel finds that children up to age 9 have little to do with the spread of the coronavirus.

Experts say this means that reopening summer camps and in-person classroom instruction is a good idea and that the findings should reassure educators.

Though experts disagree on the need for young children to wear masks, CDC guidelines recommend that people 2 years old and older wear face masks when in public settings or around others who don’t live in their household.