The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield said on Wednesday that there is no evidence that children are driving the spread of the coronavirus, but that’s probably because the U.S. hasn’t tested enough children to know one way or the other.
“We really have no evidence that children are driving the transmission cycle of it,” said Redfield at a meeting of the White House Task Force to discuss the reopening of the school.
This is a point that was also cited at an event in the White House on Tuesday to reopen the school by Sally Goza, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She said, “Children are less likely to be infected and less likely to spread infections.”
But there isn’t enough data to reach this conclusion, White House health advisor Dr. Deborah Birx, later in the Wednesday meeting. She said the US data is incomplete because the country has not tested enough children to conclude how common the virus is in people under 18 and whether they transmit the virus to others.
The question of whether children could be a driver of the transmission is crucial, especially as local officials decide whether and how schools should reopen in the fall. President Donald Trump has put pressure on officials to reopen personal learning schools in the fall, despite the country’s biggest outbreak. And while children appear to be less likely to develop Covid-19, their role in the wider spread of the virus is unknown.
“I think it really depends on the evidence base, what kind of tests we have on children,” said Birx on Wednesday, answering a question whether children are spreading the virus. “So if you look at all the tests we’ve done and when we have the age, the part that has been tested the lowest is the one under ten.”
Robert Redfield, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), speaks on Wednesday, July 8, 2020, during a briefing by the White House Coronavirus Task Force at the Department of Education in Washington, DC, USA.
Joshua Roberts | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Test resources have been scarce in the United States since the first Covid 19 patients were identified in the United States at the end of January. As a result, critically ill people and those with symptoms were prioritized to be tested. CDC data shows that younger and otherwise healthy people are less likely to get sick or develop Covid 19 symptoms, so the U.S. has not tested many of them, Birx said.
“Remember, we said early on, test to see if you have any symptoms, and now we know that the majority of you if you are under 18 have no symptoms,” Birx said of the lack of data on children in the USA. Our data originally refer to people with symptoms and then to adults over the age of 18. We therefore examine this category very closely using our antibody test. “
Antibody tests are used to determine if someone has previously been infected with the coronavirus. Large-scale antibody tests are used to determine how common the virus is in a particular community. It has been used by scientists to investigate how many people with and without symptoms have been infected with the virus in hard-hit cities like New York.
Representatives of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were not immediately available to respond to CNBC’s request that the agency conduct a widespread antibody survey among minors.
While advocates of aggressive school reopening say coronavirus is not a major health risk for most children, others fear that children in crowded school buildings may become infected and spread the virus to parents who may be more susceptible to serious illnesses.
The White House Health Advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who was absent from Wednesday’s meeting, previously said that children, although they don’t appear to be as vulnerable as older people, can still get extremely sick and even die from Covid-19.
“Although the The incidence is less serious. We are now getting several examples of young people who get sick, are hospitalized, and some even need intensive care. The mortality rate is lower. I admit that, “said Fauci during a live streaming event with Democratic Senator Doug Jones from Alabama.
“Even if you don’t get any symptoms and you are very well, if you become infected and get infected due to risky behavior, you are part of the spread of the outbreak, so part of the problem,” he added.
The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci (L), speaks as a response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Deborah Birx looks on during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus COVID-19 in the Brady Briefing Room in the White House on March 31, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Almond Ngan | AFP | Getty Images
The inconclusive comments come from the fact that the Trump administration is increasing pressure on local officials to reopen schools, even though the U.S. continues to report record-highs in new cases every day.
On Wednesday before, Trump tweeted that he disagreed with the CDC’s guidelines for safe school reopening in the fall and described them as hard and expensive. Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday’s briefing that the agency would publish revised guidelines in the coming weeks.
The CDC published guidelines in May on what schools should take into account to get students back into buildings. The guide recommends more frequent and intensive cleaning, removing students, closing common areas, and more. This could mean that schools are asked to hire more staff and to invest in the redesign of school buildings, which could put less funding on districts, in particular.
Trump’s policy tweet comes a day after he vows to pressure government officials and educators to reopen schools – even though several states continue to deal with rapidly growing outbreaks.
“We will put a lot of pressure on governors and schools to reopen,” Trump said at a White House event on Tuesday about the school’s reopening. “Open your schools in the fall,” the president said to state officials and schoolteachers present.
Schools across the country closed early for the year when the virus hit the US hard in March, moving from personal learning to distance learning or virtual learning. However, educators have stressed that virtual learning disrupts student growth and many students rely on their schools as a safe environment and source of meals.