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COVID-19 risk to children

Dr. Jeff Pernica, infectious diseases specialist, McMaster Children’s Hospital

How is it different now from when schools closed in March?

COVID-19 turned our world upside down and completely changed how we live our lives.

Schools were shut in March because at that time we were unsure of how bad the pandemic would be.

We didn’t want our hospitals get completely overloaded. Thankfully that never happened and so we’ve been gradually easing restrictions since that time.

First patios, then indoor dining, then bars, even indoor gyms have re-opened.

Schools are next, thankfully, since they are absolutely critical for the growth, development, and health of our children. Reopening schools is an important and safe next step for children and families.

What is the risk of my child getting COVID-19 at school?

Many parents are worried about what might happen when their children go back to school, since it’s more likely that their kids will get COVID-19 if they’re around a bunch of other kids rather than physical and social distancing at home.

There have been many jurisdictions that have been able to safely open schools without seeing school-related outbreaks or increases in community transmission.

Although there may be a slight increase in cases, it is important to understand the actual risk to kids.

COVID-19 causes much less severe disease in children as compared to adults.

If we imagine that 100,000 children caught COVID-19,

  • 70,000 would never develop any symptoms whatsoever
  • 29, 250 would develop mild symptoms: fever, cough, runny nose
  • 750 would require hospitalization for severe disease – of those, 250 would require treatment in the intensive care unit and two would probably die.

That’s out of 100,000 kids, if they got COVID-19.

How does COVID risk compare to other dangers for children?

Keep in mind that over the past six months in Canada, only about 10,000 children in total have gotten COVID-19, and we do not any we do not expect anywhere near this many cases in the near future.

The risk to children from COVID-19 is comparable to that from the seasonal flu every year and probably less than their annual risk of serious injury or death from motor vehicle crashes – car accidents.

What about children with medical conditions?

Children with medical conditions might have two to five times higher risk of severe disease compared to otherwise healthy children, but that level of risk is still so low that it’ll be safe for the vast majority of children to return to school.

Many children with significantly depressed immune systems such as children on maintenance chemotherapy for cancer or on stable immunosuppression after a solid organ transplant are also recommended to go back to school.

Overall, going back to school is probably the safer choice for the vast majority of children in Ontario.