While the president has asserted that children are “almost immune” from COVID-19, public health experts say many things are unknown about how the virus impacts youth, particularly long-term.
“The short answer is that we do not know,” said Dr. Mariana Lanata, a pediatric infectious disease specialist who works at Marshall Health. “This virus is completely new, and we are still getting to know it and know what it does.”
So far, there have been 11 outbreaks in daycares and at-home childcare businesses in West Virginia, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources. Twenty-five staff and 15 children have contracted COVID through a daycare or a home childcare setting. Six child-care centers are currently closed because they have a current or active case of COVID reported at their facility.
Last week, Twitter temporarily blocked the Trump campaign from using its platform, over a tweet that linked to a video in which the president made false claims about COVID-19. The video was of an interview on Fox News, in which President Trump claimed that children are “almost immune from this disease.”
This controversy occurred in the midst of an increasingly politicized debate over whether to reopen schools this fall, and whether it’s safe for children to attend in person, or virtually.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while some children and infants have been sick with COVID-19, adults make up most of the known cases to date.
At this time, there’s limited research into the possible health impacts for children who do get the virus. Among concerns for pediatric experts is how contracting the virus might impact children later in life. Some children do develop serious conditions, and some have even died. Many of the children who developed serious infections were otherwise healthy, so it’s not quite clear how to predict which children may be most at risk.
“If your child is one of the ones that develops a more severe presentation, which may end up having them be admitted to the intensive care unit, having kidney failure or needing more support, then they may have more chronic consequences depending on how much their organs are affected,” Lanata said.
Despite these risks, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children return to school in person, if administrators can enforce social distancing. This is because there are advantages to in-person learning, emotionally and mentally.
“Children do better, when there are stressors, when they are in their normal routine,” said Dr. Kathryn Moffett, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at West Virginia University School of Medicine. She and other pediatricians advise that each family needs to be able to decide for themselves if they should return to in-person learning.
Moffett said she’s heard from parents who are worried, particularly because doctors can’t say for certain which children are at risk, or what could be the potential long-term impacts for kids who contract COVID-19
“I think fear is the fear of the unknown of this Multi[system] Inflammatory Syndrome in children… a toxic shock-like syndrome and children,” Moffett said. “There have only been a few hundred cases reported, with several dozen deaths. But when you look at a healthy child who then gets this inflammatory syndrome and potentially dies, then it’s significant. It doesn’t matter how rare it is. I think parents can imagine that it could be their own child who gets that.”
The reality for many parents is they simply do not have the ability to work from home, according to Lanata. “And they will have to, no matter what, send their kids to school or daycare, even if they’re uncomfortable with that decision.”
Both Lanata and Moffett agree that preventing further outbreaks at daycares, and ensuring that schools reopen safely, requires that administrators, families and teachers communicate quickly, if a case is reported at a school.
“I think that being reassured that the schools safely have a plan in place, will put a lot of parents’ minds at ease,” Moffett said.
Schools in West Virginia are set to open on Sept. 8, Gov. Jim Justice announced in a virtual press briefing last week.
Moffett’s advice to families if they choose in-person learning is that adults should help model mask-wearing and encourage children to do the same.
“Especially young children, have them practice at home,” Moffett said, noting that parents can engage younger children by having them to put masks on their dolls, Beanie Babies or stuffed animals. Play, she added, is one of the ways children learn.
“Help them understand why they’re wearing them to protect others,” she said. “You make it a story. Help them to learn. I think the children would surprise us.”
This piece was originally published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.