As school districts throughout the country discuss plans for the upcoming school year, investigators have found that children younger than 5 years old with mild-to-moderate coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) have much higher levels of genetic material for the virus compared with older children and adults, suggesting that they could transmit the virus as much as other age groups.

According to a press release, the ability of younger children to transmit COVID-19 may have been under-recognized because of the rapid, long-term closure of schools and daycares during the pandemic.

“We found that children under 5 with COVID-19 have a higher viral load than older children and adults, which may suggest greater transmission, as we see with respiratory syncytial virus, also known as RSV,” said lead author Taylor Heald-Sargent, MD, PhD, in a statement. “This has important public health implications, especially during discussions on the safety of reopening schools and daycare.”

Investigators analyzed 145 cases of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 within the first week of symptom onset. They compared the viral load among 3 age groups—children aged 5 years and younger, children between 5 and 17 years of age, and adults between 18 and 65 years old.

“Our study was not designed to prove that younger children spread COVID-19 as much as adults, but it is a possibility,” Heald-Sargent said. “We need to take that into account in efforts to reduce transmission as we continue to learn more about this virus.”

Young Kids Could Spread COVID-19 As Much As Older Children and Adults [news release]. Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago; July 30, 2020. Accessed August 5, 2020.