A look at an evidence-free editorial on “Getting Kids Back to Class”
Is it laziness or is there so little evidence to support its conclusion?
Since April, our Ogden papers have been in favor of quickly reopening the American economy that was shut down by the coronavirus. Early on, they published a a number of columnists (most of them from Town Hall) who argued for adoption of the Swedish model in which the government did not close down the country’s businesses as most European nations had done. When virus transmissions and deaths soared in April and May, Sweden and its defenders promptly disappeared from their editorial pages. Even so, editorials and Mike Myer’ columns regularly argued for reducing West Virginia’s relatively-limited lockdown. Additionally, the papers have regularly attacked the Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer, in columns and political cartoons for placing tighter controls on Michigan citizens during the pandemic. (For example, last weekend’s paper carried #8 in their series of anti-Whitmer political cartoons.) I would also note that our Ogden papers have yet to publish anyone who has advocated for a tightening of virus restrictions.
Today’s editorial, “Getting Kids Back to Class,” is a continuation of this effort. The editorial is evidence-free and while one important assertion is correct (that those aged 8 to 14 don’t die from the disease as frequently as those who are older), another is most-likely not true:
In addition, it appears the risk of children contracting the virus but remaining asymptomatic and transmitting it to adults is far lower than had been thought.
Although this assertion is critical to the editorial’s conclusion that students should go back to in-person schooling, I could not find any evidence to support it. The closest I could get (and it wasn’t an endorsement) was an article from Vox that summarized a number of studies that looked at coronavirus transmission by young children. Their subheading summarizes the article:
Several new studies are deepening our understanding of infection and transmission in kids, but there’s still a lot we don’t know.
Among the numerous studies cited by Vox, one seemed to suggest that children under 10 were less likely to transmit:
A study in South Korea followed the contacts of 5,700 Covid-19 patients and found that children between ages 10 and 19 spread the virus at a similar rate as adults, while children under the age of 10 transmit much less.
Beyond the one study cited in the Vox article, the rest of the evidence pointed to the likelihood that children were at least as likely as adults to spread the virus. Last week, for example, Kaiser Health examined the question about children and coronavirus transmission. What they found (emphasis is mine):
Our review of the latest available data indicates that, while children who are infected with COVID-19 are more likely to be asymptomatic and less likely to experience severe disease (though a small subset become quite sick), they are capable of transmitting to both children and adults.
Kaiser then suggests that more study is needed and that schools clearly need to assess the risks.
There have also been recent studies which deal more specifically with the editorial’s point. A week ago, The New York Times reported on one of them:
It has been a comforting refrain in the national conversation about reopening schools: Young children are mostly spared by the coronavirus and don’t seem to spread it to others, at least not very often.
But on Thursday, a study introduced an unwelcome wrinkle into this smooth narrative.
Infected children have at least as much of the coronavirus in their noses and throats as infected adults, according to the research. Indeed, children younger than age 5 may host up to 100 times as much of the virus in the upper respiratory tract as adults, the authors found.
The Times did suggest a caveat when it concluded:
That measurement does not necessarily prove children are passing the virus to others. Still, the findings should influence the debate over reopening schools, several experts said.
In a similar article, Forbes described the same study. Forbes also reported on an Italian study that clearly contradicted the editorial’s assertion:
The researchers found that although young children had a somewhat lower risk of infection than adults and were less likely to become ill, children age 14 and younger transmit the virus more efficiently to other children and adults than adults themselves. Their risk of transmitting Covid-19 was 22.4 percent—more than twice that of adults aged 30 to 49, whose rate of contagiousness was about 11 percent. “Although childhood contacts were less likely to become cases,” they wrote, “children were more likely to infect household members.”
While the amount that children transmit varies somewhat in each of the studies, I could not any evidence that their transmission to adults was “far lower than we had thought.”
When the states began to reopen without meeting the minimum requirements, medical experts warned that we were likely going to see a resurgence of the virus. The experts were correct but that hasn’t stopped Trump and his apologists/supporters (such as Ogden) for pushing for school openings without an accompanying consistent decline in virus cases/deaths and a dramatic increase in testing/tracing. So it goes – we don’t learn, do we?
I’ll end with a political cartoon I found in my research:
thought for the day...from cartoonist Nick Anderson.. pic.twitter.com/1efqtrJFQ8— Ron Nash (@ron_nash) August 7, 2020