Novel coronavirus cases spiked more than 40 per cent among children in the United States during the last two weeks of July and more than 97,000 kids were infected with COVID-19 in that same time period, according to a new report.
Experts say it’s highly unlikely Canada will suffer the same fate because its rate of community transmission is currently nowhere near that of the U.S.
“While not perfect, our infection in Canada is under much better control from coast to coast compared to the United States,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases consultant with the Toronto General Hospital.
“I don’t entirely think it’s a fair comparison.”
The report, which was published by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, determined 338,982 children tested positive across 49 states since the pandemic began, making up 8.8 per cent of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.
The definition of a child depended on each state, with some lumping in younger children with 14- to 19-year-olds.
For privacy purposes, the Canadian government combines its collected data on children with those up to age 19.
Of Canada’s 119,736 cases, the most recent public health data showed 8.1 per cent of those who tested positive were aged 19 or younger, and only one of Canada’s 8,982 known virus-related deaths was in that age group.
[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]
Whether Canada sees issues similar to the U.S.will ultimately boil down to how public health plans are implemented at schools, Bogoch said.
“If the provinces are able to really facilitate physical distancing and mask-wearing and hand hygiene in these school settings and do it consistently in the schools, we’ll be OK,” he said.
Prachi Srivastava, an associate professor of global education at Western University, said there has been a misconception that children cannot catch or transmit the virus. That notion has been proven false.
“The messaging to understand that children and young people are not immune, that does mean that we have to be extremely vigilant,” she said. “But the knock-on effect of what that means for education is huge.”
From a global perspective, Srivastava said schools that reopened once general community transmission had either been eliminated, “drastically reduced” to the point of almost no cases or at a manageable level were more likely to stay open.
However, she said, that is not the case within Canada’s two most populous provinces.
“That’s not really our situation in Ontario. That’s not our situation in Quebec,” she said.
“(Transmission rates) might be a little bit better in some of the other provinces in Atlantic Canada — they have a better scenario — but in Ontario and Quebec, we’re really not there.”
The rate of general community transmission doesn’t have to be zero, she said, but it has to be manageable. And it isn’t an exact science.
In New Zealand, Srivastava said the country reopened schools once its rate of community transmission had gone down to zero and since then, has not seen a resurgence in cases.
Denmark, which was also praised for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, reopened its schools once its rate of community transmission went down to 0.7 per cent and still saw cases spike.
But in order to successfully and sustainably reopen schools, Srivastava said having more teachers, more space and more resources for schools in hotspot communities will be crucial.
In order to curb airborne transmission, Srivastava said schools will also have to look at properly ventilating their buildings.
University of Waterloo professor Zahid Butt, who specializes in infectious disease epidemiology, said that even in jurisdictions with zero cases, there would be at least “a few” among children once schools reopen.
It may be difficult to implement physical distancing when children are playing, said Butt, and children could get infected and then go back to their homes.
“There will inevitably be cases that there will be sporadic cases, even when you have the number going down, because there’s more people coming out and there’s more interaction among people,” Butt said.
“The question is, how are you going to handle the reopening?”
Ed. note — This story has been updated to correct the number of COVID-19 related deaths in children and youth 19 years old and younger.