How the variant affects kids
The new variant of the coronavirus, first identified in Britain, is expected to rapidly spread in the U.S. That has fueled fears that children, who have largely been spared the worst of the virus, may become just as susceptible and contagious as adults.
The latest research out of Britain largely puts the worst fears to rest. Data from about 20,000 people infected with the new variant — including nearly 3,000 children under age 10 — showed that young children were about half as likely as adults to transmit the variant to others.
“That’s exactly what we had been seeing with the current variant that’s circulating in the U.S., too,” said our colleague Apoorva Mandavilli, who wrote about the research. “Nothing has really changed on that front.”
That seems like good news. But the new variant is about 30 to 50 percent more contagious than the original, for children and adults alike. It is expected to become the dominant form of the coronavirus in the U.S. by March, which means more kids will get the virus, even if they are still proportionately less contagious and less prone to getting infected than adults.
“The variant is more contagious, but it’s more contagious across all age groups,” Apoorva said. “If kids were half as likely to be infected before, they’re also half as likely to be infected now.”
The pandemic, supercharged by the new variant, could force even elementary schools to close if community spread rises to unmanageable levels. But if schools act fast to shore up safety protocols — mask wearing, physical distancing, ventilation and extensive testing — they might buy themselves crucial time.
“Just like we had time in the summer to get ready for the fall for schools to open, we have a chance right now to get this right,” Apoorva said. “We know the variant is here, but it’s still at low levels. We have time now to prepare to make sure that schools are ready.”