What our experts say
The virus that causes COVID-19 can infect people of all ages. Although older people are known to be more likely to have severe side effects of the virus, that does not mean young people are not at risk of getting sick, or even dying, from COVID-19. In addition, young people, including children, may spread COVID-19 to relatives and contacts who may be older or have other risk factors.
Young people with underlying health conditions are at higher risk of severe COVID-19, but young people with no prior health issues have also been impacted by the disease. Less severe COVID-19 can lead to lingering health impacts that have prevented some young people from going to school, working and resuming other normal activities for months.
As of December 3, 2020, over 1.4 million US children have tested positive for COVID-19. In total, children have accounted for 12% of US COVID-19 cases though there was a 23% increase in child COVID-19 cases recorded between November 19 and December 3, 2020. In spite of the recent increase, the incidence of severe illness in children remains uncommon, though it is possible.
In a study of 85,000 COVID-19 cases in India, almost 600,000 of their contacts showed that children of all ages can become infected with COVID-19 and spread it to others. More than 5,300 school-aged children in the study had infected 2,508 contacts.
More evidence is emerging on how some young people develop severe symptoms and complications related to COVID-19, and are contributing to the widespread transmission of the virus. Young people should take preventive measures, including wearing face masks (recent guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask or a high quality respirators), practicing social distancing (6 feet/2 meters), avoidance of crowds, and frequent hand-washing, to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These measures are suggested for their own protection as well as for preventing the spread of COVID-19 to others.
Context and background
Doctors, researchers, and reporters have documented how the risks of severe COVID-19 illness tend to increase with age, with the elderly being at highest risk for hospitalization, intensive care, ventilation, and potentially death. However, young people can also become severely sick and, in some cases, die from COVID-19.
For example, COVID-19 has been linked to sometimes fatal stroke in people in their thirties and forties. COVID-19 has also claimed the lives of healthcare workers sometimes in their twenties. Children can also develop severe complications from COVID-19, such as multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), which is characterized by inflammation in different body parts, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs.
Previously healthy young people without underlying health conditions are at risk, and non-fatal cases of COVID-19 in young people can cause lingering symptoms and long-term health issues. Research is ongoing to assess the impacts of COVID-19 on young people, particularly as more schools and facilities frequented by young people continue to make decisions about conducting in person education.
Used with permission by Health Desk, a public health hub that explains emerging COVID-19 science.