Pandemic dilemmas

Keeping kids out of school makes no difference to Covid wave peaks, data shows

In under-19s, confirmed cases were five times lower and hospitalisations 13 times lower than in the rest of the populace

07 July 2021 - 12:42 By tanya farber
Those under the age of one and 15- to 19-year-olds had the highest incidence of hospital admissions, says the report
WHERE IT'S AT Those under the age of one and 15- to 19-year-olds had the highest incidence of hospital admissions, says the report
Image: 123RF/Pay Less Images

During all three Covid-19 waves in SA, closing or opening schools has made no difference to the shape of the pandemic.

A new surveillance report on under-19s from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and Datcov, a team that collates hospital surveillance data, said “peaks in cases in the first, second and third wave did not appear to be related to the timing of the opening and closing of schools”.

This, the report said, “suggests school openings and closures are not major drivers” of waves of the coronavirus.

It also found from data collected between March 1 and June 19 this year that “children and adolescents remain substantially less likely to be diagnosed or hospitalised with Covid-19 compared to adults”.

Laboratory-confirmed cases are five times lower in under-19s while admissions to hospital related to Covid-19 are 13 times lower than in the rest of the population.

However, the number of cases in the age group has been higher in the third wave than in the first two waves.

During the period of surveillance, those 19 and under accounted for only 0.7% of Covid-19  deaths and about 4% of hospital admissions.

They also made up about 13% of laboratory tests and approximately 10% of laboratory-confirmed cases. Within their cohort, 12,5% of those tested were positive.

“In recent weeks the case numbers in children have been increasing following the start of the third wave in all provinces except for the Northern Cape and have been higher than in the first or second wave,” the report said.

The hardest-hit in the age group are babies under the age of one and those aged 15 to 19.

According to the report, the under-ones had the highest incidence of hospital admissions in the 19 and under age group, while the 15 to 19 group had the second highest.

About 38% of deaths among under-19s were adolescents aged 15 to 19, while approximately 32% were under the age of one.

The data showed of those who lost their lives, about 58% had more than one underlying condition.

While the findings overall suggest schools should not close and that young people are at far lower risk, they also emphasise the importance of safety protocols.

“There is a need to ensure high compliance with respect to non-pharmaceutical interventions within households and schools of individuals aged 19 and younger, especially those with underlying conditions,” the report said.

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