How does COVID-19 affect kids? Science has answers and gaps

FILE - In this Tuesday, July 14, 2020 file photo, Amid concerns of the spread of COVID-19, teachers check students before a summer STEM camp at Wylie High School in Wylie, Texas. Not knowing if children are infected makes it difficult for schools to reopen safely, many experts say. Scarce data on whether infected children _ including those without symptoms _ easily spread the disease to others complicates the issue, said Jeffrey Shaman, a Columbia University infectious disease specialist. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
FILE - In this Tuesday, July 14, 2020 file photo, Amid concerns of the spread of COVID-19, teachers check students before a summer STEM camp at Wylie High School in Wylie, Texas. Not knowing if children are infected makes it difficult for schools to reopen safely, many experts say. Scarce data on whether infected children _ including those without symptoms _ easily spread the disease to others complicates the issue, said Jeffrey Shaman, a Columbia University infectious disease specialist. (AP Photo/LM Otero) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

What role children play in the coronavirus pandemic is the hot-button question of the summer as kids relish their free time while schools labor over how to resume classes.

The Trump administration says the science “is very clear,” but many doctors who specialize in pediatrics and infectious diseases say much of the evidence is inconclusive.

“There are still a lot of unanswered questions. That is the biggest challenge,” said Dr. Sonja Rasmussen, a pediatrics professor at the University of Florida and former scientist at the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

Several studies suggest, but don’t prove, that children are less likely to become infected than adults and more likely to have only mild symptoms.

An early report from Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began last winter, found that fewer than 2% of cases were in children. Later reports suggest between 5% and 8% of U.S. cases are in kids.

The CDC says 175,374 cases have been confirmed in kids aged 17 and under as of Friday, accounting for roughly 6% of all confirmed cases. The number of kids who have been infected but not confirmed is almost certainly far higher than that though, experts say, because those with mild or no symptoms are less likely to get tested.

The CDC says 228 children and teens through age 17 have died from the disease in the U.S. as of Thursday, about 0.2% of the more than 138,000 Americans who have died in all.

One early study examining infections in children comes from a Wuhan hospital. Of 171 children treated there, most had relatively mild illness. One child died, and only three needed intensive care and ventilator treatment. Perhaps more worrisome was that 12 had X-ray evidence of pneumonia, but no other symptoms.