WASHINGTON — Children can transmit the coronavirus, a new study of childcare centers in Utah conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows, but they do not get sick themselves.

The new findings, released Friday, bolster previous research on childhood infections, and come from extensive contract tracing at three daycare centers in Salt Lake City between April 1 and July 10. Those findings could help shape the intense debate about how to reopen schools safely as the coronavirus continues to sicken thousands and kill hundreds daily.

This report describes transmission of SARS-CoV-2 among household members following exposure of 46 non-childcare-facility contacts linked to 12 children with COVID-19. (CDC)

President Trump has called for schools to reopen for in-person instruction, pointing to studies that seem to show that children do not become sick from the coronavirus. But teachers and the powerful unions that represent them, as well as many Democratic legislators, have said they have not received sufficient resources to return to the classroom. 

In many parts of the country, schools have switched to online classes.

The Utah findings offered mixed results, at least as far as the youngest children are concerned. The average age of the children at the three childcare centers was 7. Earlier studies have found that children younger than 10 appear to become sick and spread the virus less often than their older counterparts.

A total of 184 people either worked in one of the three childcare centers, attended one of the centers or were very close contacts, such as a parent, spouse or sibling. 

Thirteen children ultimately tested positive for the coronavirus. However, as the study notes, “all had mild or no symptoms” of COVID-19. Three had no symptoms at all.

Those children spread the virus to at least 12 people outside the childcare center environment. Six of these outside cases were of mothers of infected children, while another three were a brother or sister. One mother required hospitalization. Her child had been one of the asymptomatic coronavirus carriers. Another of the three asymptomatic children also transmitted the virus.

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Notably, 71 percent of the cases remained confined to the adults and children within the three childcare centers. But in one case, an 8-month-old child transmitted the coronavirus to both of his or her parents.

A student at Freedom Preparatory Academy in Provo, Utah. (George Frey/AFP via Getty Images)

At all three daycare centers, temperatures were checked. But only two of the centers required adults to wear masks. The third — referred to as “Facility C” in the report — was by far the largest of the three, and required masks of neither children nor adults. Out of the 84 people there, 15 became sick.

“COVID-19 is less severe in children than it is in adults, but children can still play a role in transmission,” the CDC study concluded. 

Ongoing research suggests that COVID-19 infections can have potentially long-term effects on the heart and other organs, even in patients who had mild or even asymptomatic cases. It is not known whether and how these effects might manifest in children.

The CDC “also recommends the use of face masks, particularly among staff members, especially when children are too young to wear masks.”

The president has downplayed the efficacy of masks, and has refused to order a national mask mandate.

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