Flu vs. COVID-19: What is the relative risk for children?

What is the greatest risk sending kids back to school?

As the new school year approaches, parents, educators and state officials are weighing whether it is safe to send children back to classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic.

School districts in Los Angeles and Seattle  plan to hold online-only classes in the fall despite medical experts saying children will be safe if they follow social distancing and community cases are kept low.

As of Saturday, 36 children under 15 have died from COVID-19, about 0.03 percent of all coronavirus deaths at the time, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The flu, another contagious respiratory illness, killed an estimated 477 people under 17 years old in the 2018 – 2019 season, according to the CDC. From 2010 to the end of the 2019 flu season, the CDC said the illness killed an average of 511 children each year.

Children under 17 years old accounted for about 6.7 percent of all coronavirus cases in the U.S. as of Thursday, according to CDC data. The number has risen from 5.9 percent reported a few weeks ago.

A commentary published earlier this month in “Pediatrics,” a leading peer-reviewed medical journal, concluded that children don’t transmit COVID-19 to others as frequently as adults do. The conclusion was based off four recent studies in Switzerland, China, France and Australia examining COVID-19 transmission among children.

“The data are striking,” said Dr. William V. Raszka Jr. “The key takeaway is that children are not driving the pandemic. After six months, we have a wealth of accumulating data showing that children are less likely to become infected and seem less infectious; it is congregating adults who aren’t following safety protocols who are responsible for driving the upward curve.”

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Raszka co-authored the study with Dr. Benjamin Lee. Both are pediatric infectious disease specialists on the faculty of the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine.

Raszka and Lee both say that models show community-wide social distancing and the widespread use of face coverings are better options to curtail the spread of the disease than closing schools.

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The paper noted that the reopening of many schools in Western Europe and Japan without a rise in community transmission supports the model’s conclusion.

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