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Q: I'm confused -- can kids get COVID-19?

With so much talk about sending kids back to school, there's been a lot of discussion about whether children are at risk from COVID-19. While scientists are still learning about the virus and how it works, here's what we know so far.

Yes, children can get COVID-19, but based on the limited published studies it was initially thought that they're less likely to be infected than adults. Early studies in the U.S., China, and Italy found that children made up fewer than 2 percent of COVID-19 cases and were less likely than adults to be hospitalized. In most cases, kids who are infected seem to have a milder illness than adults, and some might not have any symptoms. This likely led to less testing in children. With the national discussions regarding reopening of schools, more testing is being done on children and the latest reports are starting to indicate that children are as likely to get infected and are as transmissible as adults.

People of all ages with certain medical conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart problems, and diseases affecting the nervous system, are at higher risk of serious illness if they become infected. And a small number of kids with COVID-19 have developed multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a rare but dangerous condition in which multiple organs or other parts of the body develop inflammation. This often includes swelling, redness, and pain. A few children have died as a result of this condition.

Additionally, because many children who test positive for the virus are asymptomatic, meaning have no symptoms, they could be spreading COVID-19 to those around them without knowing it. This could be dangerous for those who have contact with individuals who are at higher risk for serious and life-threatening symptoms including their grandparents or friends and family who may have other medical conditions.

You can help prevent your child from becoming infected with COVID-19 or spreading the virus to others by following CDC recommendations, including staying home and practicing social distancing. While it can be hard for children to stay six feet away from friends, you can reduce the risk by keeping playdates outdoors and avoiding close-contact sports and activities like football and basketball. Wash hands frequently and teach older children to wear a mask (do not place a face covering on children younger than 2) and avoid the new “plastic face shields” as they do not offer any benefit. The mask should cover both nose and mouth.

Finally, even as you protect your child from COVID-19, remember that there are other serious infectious diseases for which vaccinations already exist. So, do not postpone well-child visits and immunizations over COVID-19 fears.

Vijak S. Ayasanonda, MD

Emergency Medicine

Emergent Medical Associates (EMA)
898 N. Pacific Coast Highway
Suite 600
El Segundo, CA 90245