Alert on reopening of schools: US study reveals children are silent spreaders of COVID-19


By Duncan Mlanjira

As many countries across the world are contemplating on reopening of learning institutions that were closed as one of the preventive measures against the spread of Coronavirus, a new study done in the USA has provided a critical data that children play a large role in community spread of COVID-19.

A report by says a comprehensive paediatric study carried out by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Mass General  Hospital for Children (MGHfC) shows higher levels of the virus in children’s airways than hospitalized adults in intensive care units (ICU) needing COVID-19 treatment.

The report says “the study examined viral load, immune response and hyper inflammation in paediatric COVID-19 cases, showing that out of 192 children aged 0-22 years, 49 tested positive for the virus and an additional 18 had late-onset, COVID-19 related illness”.

This breakthrough finding, says the report, challenges the current hypothesis that — because children have lower numbers of immune receptors for COVID-19 — this makes them less likely to become infected or seriously ill.

The study, ‘Pediatric SARS-CoV-2: Clinical Presentation, Infectivity and Immune Responses’, has been published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Malawi is also contemplating gradual reopening of schools five months after their closure and the Ministry of Education Science and Technology has developed guidelines for their reopening.

The Ministry says the schools should first reopen for members of management and teachers to prepare for the return of the learners and thereafter introduce the learners through a phased approach by priotizing examination years first (Standard 8, Form 4)

Schools, districts and divisions must use the Education Management Information System (EMIS) data on situations of schools, teachers and learners to inform decision making process.

But several analysts have cautioned against the reopening in view of the continued rise of new cases.

As of Saturday evening, Malawi registered 60 new cases and two new deaths while 69 cases were new recoveries.

Dr. Phuka

And all 60 new cases are locally transmitted infections: 27 are from Blantyre, 15 from Mzimba South, 13 from Nkhotakota, two each from Chiradzulu, and Nkhata Bay, and one from Balaka.

A situation report by co-chairperson of Presidential Taskforce Force on COVID-19, Dr. John Phuka indicates that total number of active cases is at 2,237 while those that have recovered are at 2,998 — a difference of 755.

Of the cumulative figure of 5,382 cases including 168 deaths, 4,291 are locally transmitted and 1,091 are imported infections.

So far, the average age of the total cases is 36.6 years and the youngest being aged 1 month with the oldest at 98 years old while 68% are male.

Coronavirus alert

While appreciating that those that have recovered has reached close to 3,000 and it is still improving each passing day, Dr. Phuka urges those that have recovered follow all preventive measures to avoid getting re-infected with coronavirus.

He said the local transmission is 4 times higher than the imported cases and therefore, there is need for the public to focus their attention on stopping the community transmission by limiting the human to human transmission.

Dr. Phuka says “this is the time for us to seriously continue re-strategizing our day to day lives and only make decisions that help to reduce the spread of the virus in our midst” and probably the issue of children being spreaders of the virus could be considered in contemplating reopening of Malawian schools.

Coronavirus alert

The report by further says authors of the study indicate that although younger children have lower numbers of the virus receptor than older children and adults, this does not correlate with a decreased viral load.

The findings of the study “suggests that children can carry a high viral load, meaning they are more contagious regardless of their susceptibility to developing a COVID-19 infection”.

The report quotes Dr. Lael Yonker, who is director of MCG Cystic Fibrosis Centre and lead author of the study as saying: “I was surprised by the high levels of the virus we found in children of all ages, especially in the first to days of infection.

Dr. Lael Yonker, author of the study

“I was not expecting the viral load to be so high. You think of a hospital, and of all the precautions taken to treat severely ill adults, but the viral loads of these hospitalized patients are significantly lower than a ‘healthy child’ who is walking around with a high SARS-CoV-2 viral load.”

Also quoted is Dr. Alessio Fasano, MCG’s director of Mucosal Immunology and Biology Reserch Centre and senior author of the manuscript, who says: “Kids are not immune from this infection and their symptoms don’t correlate with exposure and infection.

Dr. Alessio Fasano, senior author of the

“During this CIVID-19 pandemic, we have mainly screened symptomatic subjects, so we have reached the erroneous conclusion that the vast majority of people infected are adults.

“However, our results show that kids are not protected against this virus. We should not discount children as potential spreaders for this virus,” Dr. Fasano is quoted as saying.

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