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Report: South Korean study finds older children spread coronavirus as much as adults

A young girl has her temperature checked as she arrives to watch a drive-in concert at the Gyeongbok Palace parking lot in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, July 17, 2020. The concert's aim is to provide entertainment for people during the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon) (Ahn Young-Joon, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A South Korea study of nearly 65,000 people found that people ages 10 to 19 can spread the virus at least as well as adults do, according to a new report from The New York Times.

The study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that children younger than 10 transmit to others much less often than adults do, but the risk is not zero, the Times reported.

The study seems to bolster local doctors’ concerns that reopening schools in Florida, a coronavirus hot spot, will trigger a new flurry of outbreaks.

The debate over how and when to reopen schools has played out across the state.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, with the backing of President Donald Trump, has called for school buildings to reopen this fall with safety precautions in place. DeSantis has referenced the low infection rate in elementary school students.

“I look particularly at those elementary school kids, and the science on that is just overwhelming. Yes, they’re at almost zero risk, but even more than that, transmission from an elementary school [student] to an adult is extremely rare,” DeSantis said last week. “I think generally for schools, the kids aren’t vectors, but you know, as you get into 17-18 [years old], I think you can probably find some examples of that.”

Very few students and teachers tested in one German study showed antibodies to COVID-19, Reuters reported last week, citing a study which looked at 2,000 people. Germany began opening schools in May.

But the new study in South Korea suggests students in fourth and fifth grade or higher can spread the virus as easily as adults.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued an emergency order to call for schools to reopen schools five days a week so parents who want to send students back to school have the option. The state’s largest teachers union filed a lawsuit Monday to get the Florida Department of Education to rescind the reopening order and doctors have said putting students back into the classroom in the middle of a COVID-19 surge could be dangerous.

Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told The Times that several studies from Europe and Asia that suggest young children are less likely to get infected and to spread the virus are small and flawed. Jha said the South Korea study is the best one yet.

The study showed that children under 10 were about 50% as likely as adults to spread the virus to others and also suggested that COVID-19 cases could spike when schools do reopen.

“Although the detection rate for contacts of preschool-aged children was lower, young children may show higher attack rates when the school closure ends, contributing to community transmission of COVID-19,” the author states.

Local school districts are in the process of deciding how to reopen schools. Many are considering pushing back the start date at least two weeks while Duval County schools are looking pushing back against the education commissioner’s order and starting the school year with online learning.

About the Author:

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.