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Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference on July 7, 2020, in Urbandale, Iowa. (AP) Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference on July 7, 2020, in Urbandale, Iowa. (AP)

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference on July 7, 2020, in Urbandale, Iowa. (AP)

By Lyle Muller July 16, 2020

Existing research shows lower rate of children getting, spreading COVID-19

If Your Time is short

  • Children do contract the coronavirus but current research shows it is happening at a much lower rate than for adults.

  • Children in available studies also have been less likely than adults to spread the coronavirus.

  • Iowa’s governor cited these factors, plus general acceptance from educators and pediatricians that in-person learning is better for children, in her call to re-open K-12 schools for the 2020-21 school year. 

Iowa, like many other states, faces a calendar-driven fact: the beginning of another school year. The state’s governor, Kim Reynolds, says schools should re-open for students who do not have health conditions that would put them at risk if exposed to the novel coronavirus. 

"Kids are less likely to get it," Reynolds said at a July 14, 2020, news conference about children’s susceptibility to the virus, COVID-19. "They’re less likely to spread. So I think there’s some pretty good data out there that will help alleviate some of the concerns."

PolitiFact has visited this topic previously, stating that children can catch the virus but that their symptoms aren’t as potent as those in older people. And, President Trump has called forcefully for schools to re-open for the next school year.

Deciding to re-open schools that have been closed since mid-March in Iowa while the coronavirus pandemic continues has been a balancing act. Parents and teachers are dealing with the virus’s health threat on students, teachers and staff but also fear negative effects on children isolated at home instead of learning face-to-face with teachers and interacting with other children. The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and the School Superintendents Association are on record saying interaction is necessary but also caution against moving unsafely when reopening schools.

While there’s no mistaking that a child ill with the virus would deal with discomfort, or in a worse scenario serious health risks, existing research backs up Reynold’s statement about the virus’ incidence rate and spread rate for children and research backing that up.

In Iowa, 5% of people testing positive for COVID-19 as of July 15 were 17 or younger, state data showed on July 16, 2020. That’s lower than the national rate, which shows 10% of Americans testing positive for COVID-19 were age 17 or younger, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data showed July 16. Almost one-half of Iowa’s COVID-19 cases were detected in people ages 18 to 40. 

Researchers concluding, to date, that young children are at less risk than older adults of catching or spreading the virus include:

  • An international research team conducting studies in China, Italy, Japan, Singapore, Canada and South Korea. They concluded that the risk of transmitting the virus under the age of 20 could be as much as one-half the risk for those over the age of 20. They published their findings June 16, 2020, with Nature Medicine.

  • Doctors and researchers at Mayo Clinic, of Rochester, Minnesota. "While all children are capable of getting the virus that causes COVID-19, they don't become sick as often as adults," the clinic’s COVID-19 section on its website states. "Children also rarely experience severe illness with COVID-19. Despite many large outbreaks around the world, very few children have died."

  • Chinese researchers whose work was published in July 2020 in Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics journal.

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  • University of Vermont researchers writing in Pediatrics’ July 2020 issue, which also published American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for returning to school classrooms. 

  • A research team in Dresden, Germany. (more on that later)

  • A World Health Organization-China joint report from February 2020.

Skepticism has existed about the WHO-China report, especially when testing only was done in hospitals. Also, some researchers caution that infection and transmission rates among young people aren’t as high as they are for adults because the youths have not been exposed as much as adults to the virus. And that CDC data? It shows a higher percentage of people age 17 and younger who are tested for the virus showing up positive.

Part of the reason for those CDC numbers is that fewer children than adults have been tested, and that what testing has been done has been with children suspected to be at risk. "Our data is skewed originally to people with symptoms, and then skewed to adults over 18," Dr. Deborah Birx, coronavirus response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said at a July 8, 2020, White House news briefing. More in-depth study of COVID-19’s affect on children is needed, she said. 

Five days later, German researchers released a study of students in their country who were exposed to each other in school that, the researchers said, could indicate that COVID-19 might not spread as much among the youths as feared. 

Pediatricians at Dresden University Hospital Carl Gustav Carus said they reached their conclusions after studying blood samples taken in May and June from 1,541 youths mostly in eighth through 11th grade. The samples were from 13 secondary schools and part of a 2,045-sample test that also included teachers, the researchers said.

Our ruling 

Reynolds said, "Kids are less likely to get it (COVID-19). You know, they’re less likely to spread. So I think there’s some pretty good data out there that will help alleviate some of the concerns."

Reynolds’ assertion is supported by the bulk of the existing research, which shows that scientists have seen lower COVID-19 infection rates among young people and have not seen the virus spread among children at the rate as high as the ones for adults.

However, researchers have only been able to study the virus since late January 2020, and they are learning more about it by the day. There may also be statistical quirks affecting the data, such as the limited extent to which children are being tested for the virus.

Reynolds’ statement is largely supported by the research published so far, but with a big caveat that the science is preliminary and evolving. We rate the statement Mostly True.

Our Sources

Kim Reynolds press conference; WOI-TV, July 14, 2020.

"COVID-19 Planning Considerations: Guidance for School Re-entry;" American Academy of Pediatrics; June 25, 2020.

"Yes, children do get coronavirus. It just might not be as serious;" by Madeline Heim,; May 22, 2020.

"Pediatricians, Educators and Superintendents Urge a Safe Return to School This Fall;" press release; July 10, 2020.

Positive Cases by Age Group chart;; July 15, 2020.

"COVIDView: A Weekly Surveillance Summary of U.S. COVID-19 Activity;" Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website; July 10, 2020.

Age-dependent effects in the transmission and control of COVID-19 epidemics; Nicholas G. Davies, Petra Klepac, Yang Liu, Kiesha Prem, Mark Jit, CMMID COVID-19 working group, & Rosalind M. Eggo; Nature Medicine, June 16, 2020.

"COVID-19 (coronavirus) in babies and children," Mayo Clinic website, July 1, 2020.

"COVID-19 Transmission and Children: The Child Is Not to Blame," by Benjamin Lee and William V. Raszka, Pediatrics, July 2020.

"Coinfection and Other Clinical Characteristics of COVID-19 in Children;" Qin Wu, Yuhan Xing, Lei Shi, Wenjie Li, Yang Gao, Silin Pan, Ying Wang, Wendi Wang and Quansheng Xing; Pediatrics; July 2020.

"Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)," February 2020.

"Children aren't at great risk for coronavirus, WHO report says, but some doctors aren't so sure," by Adrianna Rodriguez; USA Today; March 6, 2020.

"How do children spread the coronavirus? The science still isn’t clear;" by Smriti Mallapaty;  Nature, May 7, 2020.

"Epidemiology and transmission of COVID-19 in 391 cases and 1286 of their close contacts in Shenzhen, China: a retrospective cohort study;" by Qifang Bi, Yongsheng Wu, Shujiang Mei, Chenfei Ye, Xuan Zou, Zhen Zhang, Xiaojian Liu, Lan Wei, Shaun A Truelove, Tong Zhang, Wei Gao, Cong Cheng, Xiujuan Tang, Xiaoliang Wu, Yu Wu, Binbin Sun, Suli Huang, Yu Sun, Juncen Zhang, Ting Ma, Justin Lessler, Tiejian Feng; The Lancet; April 27, 2020.

"Degree of immunization lower than expected -- Schools have not developed into hotspots;" Technical University Dresden and Dresden University Hospital Carl Gustav Carus news release; July 13, 2020 (English translation).

"First Travel-related Case of 2019 Novel Coronavirus Detected in United States;" press release; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Jan. 21, 2020

"First Case of 2019 Novel Coronavirus in the United States;" by Michelle L. Holshue, M.P.H., Chas DeBolt, M.P.H., Scott Lindquist, M.D., Kathy H. Lofy, M.D., John Wiesman, Dr.P.H., Hollianne Bruce, M.P.H., Christopher Spitters, M.D., Keith Ericson, P.A.-C., Sara Wilkerson, M.N., Ahmet Tural, M.D., George Diaz, M.D., Amanda Cohn, M.D., et al., for the Washington State 2019-nCoV Case Investigation Team; New England Journal of Medicine; Jan. 31 2020.

"Press Briefing by Vice President Pence and Members of the Coronavirus Task Force | July 8, 2020," transcript.

Frequently Asked Questions/Children, Center for Disease Control and Prevention website.

"Information for Pediatric Health Care Providers," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, May 29, 2020.

"Coronavirus in Babies and Kids;" reviewed by Aaron Milstone, M.D., M.H.S.; Johns Hopkins University.

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Existing research shows lower rate of children getting, spreading COVID-19

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