Ever since the beginning of the Wuhan virus panic, there has been an extensive debate about the degree to which children can catch or transmit Wuhan. This is actually one of the more critical questions that needs to be answered. While everyone agrees that children, at least those without some underlying health challenge, are largely asymptomatic, that is the end of the agreement. If children are not carriers, then closing schools and daycare centers is, like with so much else we’ve done to ourselves, bonkers. Kids who can’t transmit stop being a potential vector for bringing the infection to more vulnerable members of the population. Also, if schools and daycare can reopen safely, the quicker we can get the country back to something resembling a functioning nation and not merely a capstone project for a bunch of academics and government employees who seem incapable of understanding the harm they are doing to real people. BUT. If children can transmit the disease and they are virtually always asymptomatic, then schools must be looked upon as one of the more critical focal points to monitor.
Early on, the Swiss cast their lot with the “kids don’t transmit” position (see Switzerland Consults Actual Science and Decides to Reopen Its Schools). It’s results, to date, seem to support the decision. It ranks below the US and UK in cases. On the other side, there was a study published by a prominent German virologist named Christian Drosten in late April that claimed that children were merely asymptomatic carriers:
Children with the new coronavirus may be as infectious as adults, according to a study from Germany that stoked confusion over kids’ role in the pandemic.
Levels of virus in the respiratory tract — the main route via which the pathogen is transmitted — don’t appear significantly different across age groups, Christian Drosten, director of the Institute of Virology at Berlin’s Charite hospital, and colleagues found. They advised caution in reopening schools and kindergartens.
This gained credibility because of the resume of the researcher and because the academic and public health communities have pretty much closed ranks behind the idea that Wuhan is some kind of unique viral threat that demands the reordering of Western civilization. See this from Nature for a great example of the circular reasoning any study that indicates that Wuhan is really not a deal, big or small, to 99% of the population. This is the thesis:
“I do not see any strong biological or epidemiological reason to believe that children don’t get as infected,” says Gary Wong, a researcher in paediatric respiratory medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “As long as there is community transmission in the adult population, reopening of schools will likely facilitate transmission, as respiratory viruses are known to circulate in schools and day cares.” He says good surveillance and testing systems should be in place before schools reopen.
And this is how inconvenient data are rationalized away:
Kirsty Short, a virologist at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, led an as-yet unpublished meta-analysis of several household studies, including some from countries that had not closed schools at the time, such as Singapore. She found that children are rarely the first person to bring the infection into a home; they had the first identified case in only roughly 8% of households. By comparison, children had the first identified case during outbreaks of H5N1 avian influenza in some 50% of households, the study reports.
“The household studies are reassuring because even if there are a lot of infected children, they are not going home and infecting others,” says Munro.
But Wong argues that such research is biased, because the households weren’t randomly selected but picked because there was already a known infected adult there. So it is also very difficult to establish who introduced the virus, he says. School and day-care closures could also explain why children aren’t often the main source of infection with SARS-CoV-2. Other respiratory viruses can transmit from adults to children and back, so “I don’t believe this virus is an exception”, he says.
Now, more fat has been thrown in the fire as the German newspaper Bild reports that the estimable Christian Drosten’s study is as fake as the notion that a crocheted facemask does anything useful. The headline is “Questionable methods – Drosten‘s study on contagious children grossly false.“ Here is some of it via Google Translate:
Economics professor Jörg Stoye from the renowned Cornell University in New York is also tough on the Drosten study. “My reading of the Charité study reverses its direction,” Stoye writes in a detailed analysis of the statistical methods of the Drosten paper.
His accusation: The results “seem to be driven by decisions made by researchers”. The thrust of the results “coincides with the public positions (…) of the respective main authors”.
Stoye sees no evidence in the Drosten study that schools should remain closed. The bitter conclusion of the US professor: “There are many good arguments against a quick reopening of schools, but the Charité study does nothing to help.”
BILD confronted Christian Drosten with the allegations. Drosten did not want to answer BILD’s request. Instead, he published the BILD request on Twitter and wrote that he had “better things to do”. However, according to BILD information, the shortcomings of the study were already discussed within the research team and some were admitted.
A couple of other facts also enter into the equation. This paper was released as a pre-print, meaning it had not undergone peer review. It begs the question of why policymakers grabbed hold of this study to justify shutting down schools when it hadn’t been subject to anything like scientific scrutiny (though, from having been a front-row observer of the peer review process for over 10 years, I doubt that a researcher of Drosten’s prominence would have encountered very much push back because what goes around comes around). Also, as late as March 6, according to Bild, Drosten was saying there was no reason to cancel school. But he changed his tune after being invited to advise Merkel on what to do about schools on March 13.
When the story of this fiasco is written, it will not be about heroic doctors and nurses and researchers working to fight a raging pandemic. It will be about grift and self-dealing and pure quackery starting with the apocalyptic models produced in the UK. This douchebaggery and malice was aided and abetted by journalists and politicians who saw the pandemic as a way of changing society to something more dystopian and to their liking and other politicians who were too afraid of being blamed for anything that they willingly went along with shutting down our economy and robbing all of us of months of our lives. When the story of this is written it must also cover the professional and financial and political and legal accounting imposed upon the people who did this either out of stupidity or just for sh**s and giggles.