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CDC: Children might play 'important role' in spreading COVID-19

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says children might play a bigger role than previously thought in the spread of COVID-19, raising new concerns about holding in-person classes this fall.

In a report published Friday, the CDC said more than 250 people — mostly children — tested positive for the coronavirus after attending an overnight summer camp in Georgia where masks weren’t required.

A total of 597 Georgia residents attended the summer camp in June. The camp imposed most but not all of the CDC’s guidelines to slow or prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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Of the 344 test results that were available to the CDC, 260 — or 76 percent — were positive, indicating children might play an “important role” in transmitting the disease, according to the report.

The camp, which was not named in the report, required staff members to wear cloth masks but did not extend that requirement to campers. Windows and doors were not left open to increase ventilation in camp buildings, according to the CDC.

Large groups of kids sleeping in the same cabins, as well as singing and cheering, likely contributed to transmission, the report said.

“These findings demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 spread efficiently in a youth-centric overnight setting, resulting in high attack rates among persons in all age groups, despite efforts by camp officials to implement most recommended strategies to prevent transmission,” the report reads.

Georgia allowed overnight camps to operate beginning May 31. The camp cited in the study was open June 17-27.

All trainees, staff members and campers provided documentation of negative COVID-19 tests taken less than 12 days before arriving at camp, as required by an executive order signed by Gov. Brian Kemp (R), according to the report.

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A teenage staff member left the camp on June 23 after experiencing chills. The staff member tested positive for COVID-19 the following day, and officials began sending campers home the same day.

According to test results, the COVID-19 attack rate was 44 percent, but higher for kids between the ages of 6 and 10 and highest for those who stayed at the camp longest, including staffers, who arrived a few days earlier for training.

Of the cases at the camp where symptom data is available, 26 percent had no symptoms. Among the 74 percent who reported symptoms, fever and headache were the most common.

“Settings, like multi-day, overnight summer camps, pose a unique challenge when it comes to preventing the spread of infectious diseases, considering the amount of time campers and staff members spend in close proximity,” the CDC said in a statement accompanying the report.

“Correct and consistent use of cloth masks, rigorous cleaning and sanitizing, social distancing, and frequent hand washing strategies, which are recommended in CDC’s recently released guidance to reopen America’s schools, are critical to prevent transmission of the virus in settings involving children and are our greatest tools to prevent COVID-19.”

Georgia is now experiencing a large COVID-19 outbreak, reporting more than 3,300 new cases a day.

The CDC recommends schools reopen in the fall, with proper safety cautions, including mask-wearing by students and staff and social distancing in classrooms.

Most children who get COVID-19 experience mild symptoms, like fever and cough, or no symptoms at all, a fact touted by the Trump administration as a reason to reopen classrooms.

The administration also argues that forgoing in-person instruction has adverse effects on student learning and health. Reopening schools also holds the added benefit of allowing parents to get back to work, providing Trump a much-needed boost to the economy.

Still, evidence is mixed about whether children are less likely to get infected when exposed to the virus. There is also not enough evidence to determine what role children play in spreading the virus to each other and to adults, a question that looms large over school openings as teachers, staff and others would be exposed to children for several hours a day.

But the CDC report released Friday indicates kids might play a greater role in spreading COVID-19, especially when safety precautions like mask-wearing are not followed.

“This investigation adds to the body of evidence demonstrating that children of all ages are susceptible to [COVID-19] and contrary to early reports, might play an important role in transmission,” the report reads.

“The multiple measures adopted by the camp were not sufficient to prevent an outbreak in the context of substantial community transmission.”