The GOP is pushing to fully reopen schools based on false information.
Donald Trump and his Republican allies repeatedly downplayed the risk of children catching or transmitting the coronavirus, in their push to reopen schools this fall. But recent studies and rising numbers show it is a more dangerous problem than they care to admit.
Trump has for months promoted false claims that kids are virtually immune to the coronavirus and do not spread it.
On June 22, he complained to Fox News that kids who test positive are inflating the case counts. "So they can test a kid who's got sniffles and is going to be better in about two hours because you know, the young kids have done unbelievably well."
He made similar claims in an interview that same day with the Christian Broadcasting Network. "And again," he said, "we have kids with sniffles and all of a sudden we report a case and there are no danger whatsoever."
On July 15, he told a local television station, "[W]e do want to get our schools open. You know, it has virtually no impact on children. They're just stronger than we are that's all. Their immune system or whatever it may be. But we want the schools open."
Last Wednesday, Trump claimed in a press briefing that "when you look at the statistics I just read, having to do with children and — and safety, they’re very impressive. They have very strong immune systems."
He claimed that "they don't transmit very easily. And a lot of people are saying they don’t transmit, and we’re looking at that. ... that they don’t bring it home with them."
A day later he told Barstool Sports that kids have "a stronger immune system" even than his own, so it was fine to reopen schools.
"It's amazing. You look at the percentage, it's a tiny percentage of 1%. And in that one case, I mean, I looked at a couple of cases. If you have diabetes, if you have, you know, problems with something, but the kids are in great shape. So we want to open the schools and we're opening the country, and we had great numbers announced the other day..."
The facts are not on Trump's side.
At least one minor, a 17-year-old in Texas, has died so far after becoming infected with the virus. Some 550 children under age 10 have tested positive in that state alone.
Similar reports from across the country indicate that the infection rate among minors is of growing concern.
Megan Tschudy, a pediatrician at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told National Geographic last week that the initial low rates of coronavirus cases among children could be attributed to early school closures, rather that immunity.
"In the beginning of the pandemic, there was so little that was known for all ages. It was assumed that all ages might be equally affected, and there was a huge amount of preparation,” she said, adding that infected kids who did not show known symptoms were likely untested.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimates the rate of infection among those under the age of 18 to be about 7.1%. In California and Mississippi, kids may account for about a tenth of all COVID-19 cases.
In Florida, the number of kids who've been hospitalized or tested positive for coronavirus has surged in recent weeks. Between July 16 and July 24, the total number of kids 17 and under who tested positive in the state rose from 23,170 to 31,150 — a more than one-third increase in just eight days.
The number of child hospitalizations also rose by 23% in that period, to 303 total. Approximately one in three tests performed on children are now coming back positive.
Outbreaks have also been reported at summer camps in Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri, and South Dakota. More than 1,300 cases from child care facilities have been reported in Texas, affecting some 894 staff members and 441 kids.
While initial symptoms in kids often appear milder that adults, a small number have developed a potentially deadly condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children.
University of North Carolina Chapel Hill epidemiologist Rachel Graham told National Geographic that the disease "leaves lasting scars on the lungs, and can lead to more severe illness down the line," but added that "those kinds of things will have to be studied on a more long-term basis with children who have recovered from the disease."
And while a recent study in South Korea showed that younger kids spread the coronavirus less than adults, it found children 10 and older spread it just as often.
Trump is not alone in making baselss claims about the virus' effect on children. Other prominent conservative officials have pushed similar lies in their effort to force schools to reopen, against expert advice.
"More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don't get it and transmit it themselves," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a July 16 radio interview.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has demanded all of his state's schools reopen this fall, amid a massive spike in cases, said this month, "The risk of corona for students is incredibly low. CDC will show statistics under 18 much more likely to be hospitalized for seasonal influenza than for this. Fatality rate is higher for seasonal influenza amongst under 18 than this has proven to be."
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who also wants to reopen schools despite the ongoing pandemic, likened the threat a few weeks ago to a mild stomach illness. "We're going to have cases that break out in schools, either with personnel or perhaps students, just like you do with a stomach bug or a flu or anything else," he told reporters on July 17. "Our schools know how to handle those situations."
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) also backed reopening, saying last month that children are at a low risk of serious COVID-19 side effects. "I think it would be crazy to not completely open up our school systems," he argued.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) falsely claimed earlier this month that "The good news is, if you look at the numbers, no one under the age of 20 has died of coronavirus," adding that "we still don’t know whether children can get it and transmit it to others."
A recent survey found that that parents are worried, despite those assertions. Nearly two-thirds of those polled by the Kaiser Family Foundation said they would prefer schools open later "to ensure the risk of getting coronavirus is as low as possible." Just 34% preferred that they open sooner "so parents can work and students won't miss out on learning and other services schools provide."
Still, Trump is continuing to demand a full reopening in just a few weeks, even as he himself reworks his own plans to avoid the virus.
Last Thursday, Trump announced that he was cancelling his planned in-person Republican National Convention in Jacksonville, Florida, which has seen an uptick in reported cases in recent weeks, to "protect the American people."
Moments later, he opined, "We believe many school districts can now reopen safely, provided they implement mitigation measures and health protocols to protect families, protect teachers, and to protect students."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.