“Schools should be open, because children are at very low risk from coronavirus. They rarely get infected, and if they do they rarely have symptoms."
“Public Health England and others have confirmed that children are safe in schools, so there is no reason for them to be closed.”
*Note that many of our responses below are derived from the references in this very useful Twitter thread by epidemiologist Deepti Gurdasani.
This argument confuses symptoms and transmission. There is a big difference between the (correct) argument that children are far less likely to have severe symptoms from Covid and the (incorrect) argument that they cannot spread it. One of the things that makes the coronavirus particularly difficult to deal with is that it is often spread by those showing no symptoms, and who feel fine themselves.
Children can be infected, are often infected at higher rates than other age groups, and can be infected at school. It is true that very few children die or require hospitalisation from COVID. But that doesn’t stop children—and others attending schools—from catching the virus.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) run random surveys of the percentages of people in each age group who test positive for coronavirus across the country. Looking at the most recent figures (at the time of writing), it's clear that at many points, children have higher rates of infection than older people:
According to the REACT study, children showed higher levels of coronavirus infection during November-December 2020, when schools were open but there were restrictions in place for most adults:
The epidemiologist Zoë Hyde has noted that, since children are in general tested less than adults (probably because they show fewer symptoms), it's often thought that they are less susceptible to the disease. As Hyde argues, this is not the case.
The experiences of South Africa (where “968 schools have had to close due to outbreaks and 2,400 teachers and 1,260 learners have tested positive for COVID-19”) and Israel (where “much of the source of the second wave stems from the opening of the education system”), are also highly instructive, and point in the direction of children acting as important vectors of COVID.