Coronavirus: New trend of COVID-19 infections in young people worries leading Kiwi expert

A leading Kiwi epidemiologist is concerned many of the latest cases of COVID-19 detected in New Zealand are young people. 

While daily case numbers in the past week have been promisingly low, half of infections discovered in the past 10 days have been in people under 20 years old. 

Michael Baker of the University of Otago says it's a worrying new trend.

"The good news is that children don't get as sick as adults and very rarely die from this infection. But the bad news is they have very few symptoms and big social networks."

New research out of the US backs him up. Much of the decision-making around lifting restrictions here and overseas has been under the belief kids are much less likely to not just get sick, but also rarely pass the virus on. In April, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield defended opening schools and daycare centres because children "have low infection rates, don't become unwell, and don't pass on the virus to adults".

A new study published this weekend by the US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found young children can spread the virus to adults - among the cases they found was an eight-month-old who infected both its parents, after catching the virus while in daycare.

The researchers looked at cases in childcare facilities across Salt Lake City, Nevada. In most cases, the virus was brought to work by staff who caught it off a family member. They went on to infect the children.

Two cases of asymptomatic transmission from child to adult were found amongst them. 

Dr Baker says school pupils should, like adults, don masks.

"There should be more mask use at level 2.5, particularly in situations where young people congregate - that's at schools and school buses."

The CDC agrees.

"To help control the spread of COVID-19, the use of masks is recommended for persons aged [over] two years," the study - published on the CDC website - concludes.

"Although masks likely reduce the transmission risk, some children are too young to wear masks but can transmit SARS-CoV-2... This guidance also recommends the use of face masks, particularly among staff members, especially when children are too young to wear masks, along with hand hygiene, frequent cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch surfaces, and staying home when ill to reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission."

Cabinet meets on Monday to decide the next alert level move. Dr Baker said Friday's single case might raise hope, but it's meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

"One day doesn't matter, doesn't mean anything. You need to have many days of zero, or maybe at most one case, before you can say we're beating it." 

Classes reopened on August 31, and the virus can take a couple of weeks to show itself - if symptoms develop at all. 

Dr Baker says it is too early to see the impacts of schools and businesses returning.

Other experts have also recommended young adults be the first in line for a vaccine, despite their resistance to the disease - because they're more likely to ignore social distancing guidelines and go out to party.

Sign up to receive news updates

By entering your email address, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Newshub and its affiliates may use your email address to provide updates/news, ads, and offers. To withdraw your consent or learn more about your rights, see the Privacy Policy.