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COVID-19 transmission from children in daycare to family members and childcare workers is rare, according to a report published Oct. 24 in JAMA Network Open.

Having put early pandemic concerns about “killing granny” to rest, the study authors called for a national reevaluation of infection-mitigation efforts.

Researchers led by Dr. Timothy Shope, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said that based on their findings, policies for testing and isolating COVID-19-infected children should be aligned with those for similarly risky respiratory illnesses like flu.

In comments delivered to his institution’s media office, Shope said:

“We need to have an open discussion at the national level about the benefit of recommending SARS-CoV-2 testing for every child with respiratory symptoms who attends a child care program. …

“No one wants to give up on controlling SARS-CoV-2 spread, but focusing on testing and long exclusion periods for children in childcare centers appears to be unnecessary, while subjecting families to the expense of frequent testing, absence from work and lost wages, and loss of education and socialization for children.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends testing any child with congestion or respiratory symptoms for COVID-19. Children who test positive should stay home for at least five days.

For influenza, which is dangerous to adults and children and spreads rapidly in childcare centers, the CDC says children fever-free for 24 hours can return to school or daycare.

How researchers conducted the study

Researchers recruited 1,154 children in daycare (students) and 402 childcare workers to self-report COVID-19 cases.

From this group, they selected 83 children and their contacts to undergo weekly “active surveillance.” Students averaged 3.86 years old and 55 (66%) were male.

Associated with this group were 21 care providers and 134 household members: 118 adults, an average age of 38.5, and 16 children, an average age of 4.7 years.

The self-reporting group (parents, presumably) relied on any accepted diagnostic. Actively monitored children were tested in a supervised environment using a lab-based reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID-19 test, the current “gold standard” for confirming COVID-19 infection.

Some experts believe PCR testing, as conducted for COVID-19, is unreliable.

Twenty-one of the students being surveilled (25%) were “vaccinated” against COVID-19 one year or less after entering the study, while 59 (71%) were not.

Researchers presented vaccination status in describing study subjects but apparently did not include this factor in their analysis. The only relevant subsequent reference to vaccinations occurred in a discussion of the study’s limitations, where the researchers wrote that vaccination among adults in the children’s social and academic spheres may have limited their ability to generalize their results from the study subjects to the larger population.

Eligible children were younger than 6, attended childcare two or more full days per week, and had at least two additional household members who spent two or more days per week with the child.

Care providers had to work at least two days per week and have 15 or more minutes of close contact with children per day. Children from non-English-speaking homes, with parents younger than 18, or who did not live with biological parents, were excluded.

Of the 1,154-student group, 154 (13%) and 87 care providers (22%) tested positive via either a home antigen test or through PCR.

The select, surveilled group had a 90% higher recorded incidence rate than the larger group who self-reported. This was not unusual as students were 5.5 times as likely to have an asymptomatic infection than workers, and therefore less likely to self-report their infection than kids who are tested regardless of whether they get sick.

The cumulative infection rate among the select group was 16.0% and the secondary attack rate — the percentage of contacts testing positive after a child’s positive result — was under 3.0%.

Of 30 household cases just five (17%) were caused by three students who caught the bug while in childcare.

These rates were far lower than the 50% infection rate and 67% secondary infection rate for adults when transmission from children was excluded.

Secondary infections from children may have been even less frequent since the source of infection was not always clear at times or locations where case numbers were high.

U.S. government ignored research

Authorities used child-to-adult transmission to justify shuttering schools during the height of the pandemic despite indications very early that this was not an issue.

By May 2020, less than three months into lockdowns, a study showed that children younger than 18 comprised just 1.7% of U.S. COVID-19 cases despite being 22% of U.S. residents.

This means kids’ infection rates were less than 10% of what would be expected based on their population.

Then two papers from May 2020 explained why: Paradoxically, because their immune systems are immature, children are deficient in the receptor the viral spike protein uses to attach to cells.

Claims that COVID-19 was particularly dangerous to children were similarly dismissed quite early. A New England Journal of Medicine study from Sweden, which did not lock down, reported more pediatric deaths in 2020, the first pandemic year, compared with 2019, but showed that none of the 2020 deaths occurring through April were due to COVID-19.

By January 2021, the CDC reported that among 17 rural Wisconsin schools, the COVID-19 incidence among students and staff was lower than in the county overall (3,453 versus 5,466 per 100,000). Among the 191 student cases, only seven (3.7%) were from in-school spread.

By late January 2021, the CDC was already advising schools to reopen. Credit: CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report

Finding a positive social or educational outcome advanced by school lockdowns is difficult. Home confinement led to “a precipitous drop” in child abuse investigations, for example, by preventing cooperation between child welfare services and education.

One study even reached the “somewhat counterintuitive” conclusion that school closures led to more deaths, but attributed the result to the “failure to prioritise protection of the most vulnerable people.”

A late-2020 paper noted that school closures had nothing to do with the pandemic’s severity and disproportionately negatively affected the most vulnerable populations:

“Available evidence shows SC [school closures] added little benefit to COVID-19 control whereas the harms related to SC severely affected children and adolescents. This unresolved issue has put children and young people at high risk of social, economic and health-related harm for years to come, triggering severe consequences during their lifespan.”

School closures persisted into the 2021-22 school year. In August 2021 the U.S. Department of Education issued a “Return to School Roadmap” that ignored this cited research and focused instead on vaccination and a $122 billion “mitigation” boondoggle as the path forward.

A Brownstone Institute post lists and links to these and many more studies putting to rest the notion — still argued in legacy media — that officials ignorant of the salient aspects of COVID-19 transmission among children were acting in good faith.