Trump gets it right about small children and Covid-19. But his wording is foolish.

12 August 2020 By Paul Martin

President Donald Trump has blundered again. He has said that children are “almost definitely immune” from Covid-19. Facebook removed the video, claiming it contained a falsehood.

Technically, by using the term ‘immune’, President Trump is wrong. But in a key respect his practical point is right.

The risk of children under the age of 11 passing on any Covid-19 virus to an adult (parent or teacher) is minimal. In fact no such case has been clearly established worldwide, according to Professor Mark Woolhouse, who is head of infectious disease epidemiology at Edinburgh University.

In an article in the British medical journal The Lancet, largely ignored by the media, he is quoted as saying:

“There are thousands and thousands of transmission events that have been inferred [via contact tracing. But] out of all these thousands, still we can’t find a single one involving a child transmitting to a teacher in a classroom.”

Professor Woolhouse adds: “The most dangerous room in the school is not the classroom, it’s the staffroom. So schools need to pay attention to that, and not take their eye off the right ball.”

Of course it is logical that children can and will get the disease – though figures from random population tests, and in contact tracing, show that children are infected withCovid-9 in a far smaller proportion than adults do.

The even more astonishing thing is how seldom, if ever, adults then get it from the children.

This has huge implications: it means children are almost certainly safe to go to school, without the need to social distance from one another.

The school environment still needs careful structuring. The teachers must social distance from each other. And arrangements need to be made so that parents keep a social distance from each other (and from school staff) when dropping off and picking up their kids.

But as normal-size classes can exist safely, and children from all the junior school can mix safely with each other, this means all children under 11 should have remained at school for most of the year so far.

The huge social disruption caused by keeping children off school even after lockdown ended, appears to have been unnecessary and deeply damaging to children – and to a large proportion of their parents, who needed to look after them at home when the children could have been at school and the parent or parents back at work.

Through erroneous phraseology President Trump has allowed himself to be lampooned — for saying something that, with careful wording, could have been a statement of truth and of importance. His long-established media enemies like CNN lost no time in contrasting what he was saying with what his chief health adviser, Professor Anthony Fauci, had also said.

In reality they were not contradicting each other.

Here’s some more evidence:

In another study published in The Lancet on the same day, 12 children who were infectious with Covid-19 but attended schools in New South Wales, Australia, had close contacts (usually defined as being closer than two metres from another children for a continuous 15 minutes) with 649 children. Only two of the closely-contacted children then developed corona-virus.

These same 12 infected children were in close contact with 103 staff, but only one staff member, in the nursery class, fell ill. In contrast, fifteen teachers who had gone to school while infected passed the virus on to seven other staff members (out of 103 staff), a far higher attack rate – 4.4 per cent compared with 0.3 percent.

Despite all these surveys, and previous revelations of the real figures by, the newspapers and media chose to pay attention mainly to a third article in The Lancet.

In its Child and Adolescent Heath section, a modelling forecast by the London School of Tropical Hygiene and University College London warned that opening schools in September in England could lead to a wave of cases double that of the original Covid-19 infection. That would happen, the forecast claimed, unless the government shut down some of its measures to open commerce, especially where people meet up in pubs and restaurants.

The evidence however, shows this is misleading scaremongering. The evidence on the ground is far more positive. But who is telling the public the real story?