I am not one for coddling children, but the narrative that our kids bear some outsize responsibility for the spread of COVID is demonstrably false.
Since the pandemic began, kids and their activities have been an easy scapegoat: Don’t open the schools! Don’t let them trick-or-treat!
Blaming kids is easy but also unfair, and it’s always to their detriment.
Take as an example last week’s meeting of the Tarrant County Commissioners Court in Fort Worth, Texas, when county Judge Glen Whitley said that school, county and city youth athletic events should be suspended to fend off the latest surge of COVID-19 cases.
“A lot of (the surge in cases) is related to the opening back of schools,” he contended, and then pivoted to sports, naming association sports as well as high school athletics as the culprits.
“I believe very strongly that those are some of the areas that are causing the significant increase in spread,” Whitley said.
Sure, it’s possible.
But he provided no data to support his claim, other than his own anecdotes and experiences at said events, contributing to the palpable sense that his assertions like so many about COVID these days, were little more than guesses.
What’s happening now that wasn’t happening before? High school volleyball. Youth softball. That must be it.
When in reality, community spread is far more likely the result of cooler weather coaxing more people indoors, people reengaging in social activities and gatherings (who can blame them?) and general COVID fatigue.
(And since we’re using anecdotes, none of the people I know who have had COVID got it from school or from attending a youth sporting event.)
But why not blame kids?
I’m not picking on Whitley in particular.
It’s been the wont of many people since this all began to assume that kids would be incredible vectors of disease and destruction. I expected it too, since kids usually are. I know — I have three.
But for reasons that are nothing short of divine grace, kids are not only being spared from the worst of this illness, they are sparing others by not being significant sources of spread.
This is especially true for very young children who are far more likely to get COVID from an adult than give it to an adult or even another child. As it stands, only 8% of cases in Tarrant County are among children 15 and under.
Research indicates that the incidence of disease increases with age; teenagers are more likely to get COVID and potentially spread it than elementary-aged kids.
But local data suggests that even older kids are probably not the driving force behind the surge. The next age cohort, 15-24, accounts for 19% of cases in Tarrant, but it’s not an outrageous assumption that the caseload among that group is heavily concentrated among those 18 and older, based on national/CDC reports that show cases have increased dramatically among people in their 20s.
There are plenty of local schools that have not reported a single case of COVID. There are schools that have reported a surprising number of cases among virtual learners. And yes, there are schools where outbreaks have occurred.
As recently as this week, multiple districts in Tarrant County closed individual schools not due to case counts but to exposures that have forced scores of students and teachers to quarantine.
If the experiences of other schools hold true, most of those quarantined will never develop COVID — at least not as a result from their “exposure” at school.
In fairness, Whitley did remark that he believes much of the problem with youth sports is the fans, namely parents, in the stands or on the field, who he says he has personally witnessed not wearing masks or social distancing.
If you believe his contention that youth athletics are driving the spread, then this seems far more likely to be the reason why. But that same problem would apply to all manner of events and activities — college football, professional sports, parties — you name it.
And it would not be the fault of the kids.
So why do we keep punishing them?
(Cynthia M. Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.)