By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Doctors are still studying how COVID-19 affects kids — from how they get it to how they may pass it on to others. What does this mean for going back to school?

Some aspects of transmission of coronavirus by children are still unknown. What has been established? Children are less likely to have symptoms, and with rare exception, do not have severe disease.

“We know that children really handle COVID very well,” says Dr. Joe Aracri of the AHN Pediatric Alliance.

Also, studies point to kids in middle school and high school spreading the virus similarly to adults, even if they aren’t showing symptoms.

“It’s the pre-symptomatic spread that you’re concerned about. So you shed the virus a few days before you start to get symptoms. You don’t know who’s going to be asymptomatic, and who’s going to be pre-symptomatic. So that’s why it’s better to take universal precautions,” says Dr. Aracri.

What isn’t clear yet: how likely are children to be infected, and when they are, how efficient are they at spreading the disease? More testing would help to figure this out.

“Because most kids are asymptomatic, or have mild symptoms, with the amount of tests that are available, those children aren’t being tested routinely,” says Dr. Aracri.

In other countries where schools are open, a few outbreaks have happened. But most schools have not had outbreaks.

“Return to school has been very safe in a lot of those areas. Not without risk. There’s always risk. But it has been safer, and it does benefit the child to go back into school,” says Dr. Aracri. “You’re taking every precaution possible, but still participating in life.”

In these other countries, there’s better contact tracing, and not as much community spread.

“Other countries are much smaller than the United States,” says Dr. Aracri.

“You look at Allegheny County where we did have an increase in cases, but still it’s nowhere near other metropolitan areas. So when you look at those studies, you have to compare them to how your population is.”

Dr. Aracri believes it’s important to look at how the pandemic is affecting children on all levels, beyond the risk of infection.

Dr. Maria Simbra