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PolitiFact: Yes, children do get coronavirus. It just might not be as serious.

Early evidence shows that children are not at higher risk for the virus, and in most cases, experience milder symptoms than adults.
Mariana Ochoa, second from left, warms up with her children, Jesus, 5 , left, Victor, 7, second from right, and Mariano, 9, in front of their home in Chicago on May 22. Chicago Run's at-home fitness programs have become an essential part of the family's routine during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mariana Ochoa, second from left, warms up with her children, Jesus, 5 , left, Victor, 7, second from right, and Mariano, 9, in front of their home in Chicago on May 22. Chicago Run's at-home fitness programs have become an essential part of the family's routine during the coronavirus pandemic. [ NAM Y. HUH | AP ]
Published May 27, 2020

There are several diseases that are especially tough on kids.

Measles, chickenpox and even this year’s most common strain of influenza target children and can cause serious, even life-threatening complications.

So the world breathed a sigh of relief when the first reports about children and COVID-19 seemed to show that this novel coronavirus wouldn’t be one of those diseases.

A preliminary report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published April 6, found that children make up only a small portion of U.S. coronavirus cases thus far and are less likely to become seriously ill.

As the debate continues about how quickly to relax restrictions and reopen the country, that information has become a key part of the reopen-now argument.

Wisconsin state Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, dove into the issue in the comments section of an April 28 post on her Facebook page that criticized Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, for not opening playgrounds and restrooms at parks.

Replying to a commenter, she wrote, "In fact, New York is considering opening schools because children don’t seem to be getting this virus."

A few days later, though, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared that all schools in the state would be closed for the remainder of the academic year.

But is Brandtjen right about the rest of her claim — that "children don’t seem to be getting this virus"?

The numbers

As of May 21, the CDC reported that 40,457 of the country’s more than 1 million coronavirus cases occurred in patients 17 and under.

That is a tiny fraction of overall cases, clocking in at just 3 percent of the 1.2 million cases listed by the CDC. But it’s still more than 40,000 children who have gotten sick with COVID-19, in the official count. Others, of course, may have gotten sick and never been tested.

So, children do seem to be getting this virus.

The nuance

But what early data and the raw numbers show is that they seem to be contracting it far less, and less seriously, too.

That’s what Brandtjen pointed to when asked to back up her claim. In a phone call with PolitiFact Wisconsin she said her choice of words in saying that children don’t "seem" to be getting the virus acknowledged that nuance.

Brandtjen cited a CDC webpage on kids and coronavirus which notes that children don’t appear to be at higher risk, and most U.S. cases appear in adults.

She also quoted a Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin news release stating that "one of the main understandings was that (COVID-19) didn’t affect healthy kids as seriously as adults." In the release, the hospital wrote that only a handful of children there tested positive for the virus, and all went home after brief hospitalizations.

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The Children’s release, however, brings up another distinction in the conversation about kids and COVID-19: a new, more serious disease known as Pediatric Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, or PIMS.

No kids at Children’s have presented with PIMS symptoms, the release says, and research on the link between PIMS and the coronavirus is still limited. But doctors in New York, which as of May 12 was investigating 102 cases of the syndrome and three deaths, suspect COVID is involved. Though rare and treatable, it’s likely another way the virus is affecting kids.

And one more bit of nuance: As schools across the country mull over opening their doors this fall, research is still being done on whether and how much children can spread the virus. The answer could be critical to the discussion of what reopening schools, day care centers and other places where kids gather should look like moving forward.

Our ruling

Brandtjen claimed "Children don’t seem to be getting this virus."

Tens of thousands of kids in the United States have fallen ill with COVID-19.

That said, children do not seem to be contracting the virus as much, or as seriously, as the rest of the population. That’s an important nuance, particularly amid such a contentious debate.

We rate Brandtjen’s claim Mostly False.

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