Four journalists collaborated on this story from different parts of the globe, and the reports are confusing:
Many developing nations with hot climates and young populations have escaped the worst… Many countries that have escaped mass epidemics have relatively younger populations.
Young people are more likely to contract mild or asymptomatic cases that are less transmissible… [T]hey are less likely to have certain health problems that can make Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, particularly deadly…
In Africa, more than 60% of the people have not yet reached their 25th birthday. That is an extraordinarily youthful population! And for a continent with 1.3 billion people, its numbers in the “critical” and “deceased” categories appear to be admirably low.
Elsewhere, the picture is bleaker. In one region of Ecuador, despite the population’s extremely young average age, 7,000 people have already died. In Iraq and Thailand, people in their 20s have the highest rate of active cases, but suffer few symptoms themselves. In general, the young are very active spreaders of contagion, “for reasons that are not well understood.”
To state it simply, young adults can readily catch COVID-19, and easily pass it around. It just does not personally inconvenience them as much. They generally have more robust immune systems. But if youth lends a degree of immunity, obesity snatches it back again. Obese young people are at greater risk of both catching the virus, and of sustaining serious damage to their health.
Adding to the confusion
For WebMD.com, Karen Weintraub reports that most children who test positive show few, if any, symptoms; and probably stay contagious for quite a while. On the other hand, a Chinese study “found that children under 15 were less susceptible to infection than people ages 15-64.” In America, a typical child comes into contact with more people than the typical adult does. But adolescents are more likely than children to pass the disease to others.
Weintraub relates a history she heard from pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Priya Soni of Cedars-Sinai. It is only one case, but it is a frightening one, concerning a boy in Singapore who is only six months old:
Both of his parents fell ill with COVID-19, so he was cared for at the hospital — and his condition tracked — for nearly 3 weeks in February. He only had a mild fever for about an hour and no other symptoms, but the boy tested positive for COVID-19 and consistently shed high levels of the virus for 16 straight days. “On day 17, he became negative.”
Run that by us again please? No evidence but a mild fever, for an hour, and contagious for more than two weeks? Let’s hope that was a very atypical case!
Back in the USA
The New York Times writer Anahad O’Connor says “an estimated 55 million students will be home from school for double the length of their normal summer vacations.” That’s a low-end estimate, and it adds up a lot of screen time, as children with nothing else to do watch shows and play video games.
The uncertainty about what is going on with children makes it very difficult to envision the reopening of American schools. It seems reasonable to think carefully before making that decision, because even if youngsters are unlikely to become very ill, or die, the average school is staffed on every level by adults with all the risk factors — some elderly, many obese, some in the lower economic strata, and so on.
On the home front, children have trouble with restrictions, especially when they see others light-heartedly flouting the rules. Isolation and distancing are rough on kids because they are kids, with incompletely formed brains, who can’t understand. And teenagers? Forget it. Like hormone-driven automatons, they must go where the boys/girls are.
They have been told that sex could kill them, but in many cases it has not. They’ve been admonished that drugs might be fatal, and found that not to be universally true either. Now, they are warned that going out to play volleyball or enjoy a fro-yo can be lethal. “Okay, Boomer. Don’t wait up.”
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “The Covid-19 Riddle: Why Does the Virus Wallop Some Places and Spare Others?,” NYTimes.com, 05/03/20
Source: “What Roles Do Children Play in Spreading COVID-19?,” WebMD.com, 04/30/20
Source: “Endless Summer Puts Homebound Kids at Risk for Weight Gain,” NYTimes.com, 04/30/20
Image by Beth Scupham/CC BY 2.0