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With most Iowa schools scheduled to start the next academic year in less than a month, many families are trying to figure out the risk of their children contracting COVID-19. After all, the vaccines are not yet approved for kids under 12 and there is an uptick in Iowa of cases believed to be connected to the more contagious Delta variant.
U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks said July 14 on “The Evening Edit,” a show on Fox Business, that “we have known for over a year that children don’t transmit the virus.” She went on to say kids should be able to attend summer camps, play sports and go back to school without masks.
Miller-Meeks, a Republican representing Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, made a similar statement July 12 on Twitter: “Elementary age students rarely die or are seriously ill and don’t transmit virus to adults or other children.”
When the Fact Checker asked Miller-Meeks’s staff to provide sourcing for these claims, they sent a column printed in August 2020 in the journal of the American Pediatric Association. The authors are William Raszka, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Vermont, and Benjamin Lee, a pediatrician at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
The doctors cited five studies early in the pandemic examining whether children were passing the coronavirus.
Children under age 16 diagnosed with COVID-19 at the Geneva University Hospital in Switzerland from March 10, 2020, to April 10, 2020, underwent contact tracing, the column reports. Of 39 households, in only three was a child suspected of transmitting the virus to an adult. Of 10 children hospitalized near Wuhan, China, in only one case was there possible child-to-adult transmission, the column reported. Other studies in Australia and France had similar findings.
“These data all suggest that children are not significant drivers of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lee and Raszka concluded, acknowledging more research was needed.
But none of these studies say children don’t transmit the virus at all. In fact, in each study there’s at least one child researchers believe may have passed the virus to another child or adult. Raszka, the Vermont pediatric infectious disease specialist, told the Fact Checker this week the statement children don’t transmit the virus is false.
“I never said or wrote that children don’t transmit the virus,” he said in a phone interview. “That is incorrect. That is absolutely false.”
Raszka said it is accurate children usually do not get seriously ill from COVID-19. The American Academy of Pediatrics reported July 22 children make up just 1.3 to 3.6 percent of total reported hospitalizations and 0 to .26 percent of all COVID-19 deaths.
“Nobody knows why children are less likely to develop severe disease,” Raszka said. “We’ve only been wrestling with this virus for a year and a half. We do know it continues to mutate and infects unvaccinated populations.”
This summer, COVID-19 outbreaks have been reported at summer camps in Texas, Missouri, Ohio and New York, Time reported. At least 157 cases of COVID-19 are tied to an outbreak at a five-day camp held by a Galveston church in June for kids in grades 6 through 12. Among those infected were 30 members of campers’ families infected after the kids got home, Time said. The majority of these camp-related cases were linked to the Delta variant.
The Delta variant, first identified in the United States in March, spreads 50 percent faster than the Alpha strain of the virus, which was 50 percent more contagious than the original version, Yale Medicine reported in June. That means, in an environment without vaccinated people or masks, someone infected with the Delta variant could spread the virus to 3.5 to 4 other people, compared with 2.5 others with the original coronavirus strain.
Because what we know about the coronavirus has evolved — and the virus keeps changing — the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its information about child transmission.
“Children and adolescents can also transmit SARS-CoV-2 infection to others,” according to a July 9 CDC science brief. “Early during the COVID-19 pandemic, children were not commonly identified as index cases in household or other clusters, largely because schools and extracurricular activities around the world were closed or no longer held in-person. However, outbreaks among adolescents attending camps, sports events, and schools have demonstrated that adolescents can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to others.”
Miller-Meeks, an ophthalmologist, has been a vocal advocate for Iowans to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
But her claims about children not transmitting the virus are inaccurate. Kids can and do pass the virus, although at much lower rates than adults. If Miller-Meeks had qualified her statement even a little, saying children usually don’t transmit the virus, she’d be correct. But she didn’t. And she uses the claim as a reason for saying children don’t need to wear masks in school — a conclusion that contradicts new CDC recommendations.
Her statement that “elementary age students rarely die or are seriously ill” is true, which saves her overall grade from an F. Instead, we give her a D.
The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder about Iowa, or in ads that appear in our market.
Claims must be independently verifiable.
We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.
If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Fact Checker was researched and written by Erin Jordan of The Gazette.