December

Attending school and child care centers while following CDC-recommended guidelines is less risky than attending social gatherings, according to a study led by UMMC experts. Photo copyright Getty Images.
Attending school and child care centers while following CDC-recommended guidelines is less risky than attending social gatherings, according to a study led by UMMC experts. Photo copyright Getty Images.
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UMMC-led study: Children should avoid gatherings, not school

Published on Monday, December 21, 2020

By: Annie Oeth, aoeth@umc.edu

Children are more at risk from contracting COVID-19 at a holiday party or family gathering than they are from being in the classroom or in childcare.

That’s according to a study led by University of Mississippi Medical Center experts in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was featured in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbity and Mortality Weekly Report, the agency’s primary publication for scientific public health information and recommendations.

Portrait of Dr. Dr. Charlotte Hobbs
Hobbs

Dr. Charlotte Hobbs, professor of pediatric infectious diseases at UMMC, is lead author on the study’s findings. Co-authors include experts from the University of Mississippi School of Nursing and Mississippi State Department of Health.

“Our main findings were that in-person childcare or school attendance in the two weeks preceding the test for COVID-19 was not associated with being infected,” Hobbs said. “Also, children who were infected were more likely to have had close contact with someone with COVID-19 and that contact was most commonly a family member, so household contacts versus a contact at school appeared to be more important in a child's risk for being infected.”

Hobbs noted that parents or guardians of children who were infected were less likely to report wearing masks at these gatherings than faculty and staff in a school or childcare setting.

The study, Factors Associated with Positive SARS-CoV-2 Test Results in Outpatient Health Facilities and Emergency Departments Among Children and Adolescents Aged <18 Years — Mississippi, September–November 2020, showed that, compared with children who tested negative, children who tested positive were also more likely to have attended gatherings and have visitors at home. Hobbs noted that parents or guardians of children who were infected were less likely to report wearing masks at these gatherings.

“Continued strict implementation of measures to reduce COVID-19 transmission in schools is vital, along with continued adherence to local Department of Health and CDC guidelines on an individual and family level,” Hobbs said. “For example, even though parents and guardians reported good adherence to MSDH/CDC recommendations for reducing risks at schools, mask use at schools was lower among infected children than the uninfected children, suggesting that consistent mask use at schools is still very important.”

The study comes a week after President-elect Joe Biden pledged to bring the pandemic under enough control so that most of the nation’s schools could be opened during his first 100 days as president. It also comes as a warning to parents and families as Christmas and New Year’s Day near.

Portrait of Dr. Paul Byers
Byers

State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers, who contributed to the research study, said the report “highlights the known risks of COVID-19 exposure associated with social gatherings where individuals are letting their guard down; a situation we have seen played out time and time again.”

The report also emphasizes the importance of consistent mask use in all settings, he said, “from structured environments such as classroom settings, to those higher-risk out-of-school social activities when folks have a tendency to be less vigilant.”

As the holidays approach, Byers said, “It is imperative that we arm parents and families with the information needed to prevent infection in themselves and their children. We have to apply the same level of consistency across the board in all public settings, and now is time to really limit social interactions outside of the nuclear family.”

Even though COVID-19 vaccines are becoming available, now is not the time for parents, families and schools and childcare centers to let down their guard, Hobbs said. “And we need to remember that the available vaccine is only approved for those 16 and older.”

“Wear your mask, social distance, even in your own household if you’re sick or infected or even exposed,” she said. “Also, everyone needs to keep their guard up whenever around people who don’t live with you. It's easy to forget this, especially as one relaxes in social gatherings with friends or family outside the house, and especially with the holidays coming. For our children and their parents or guardians, we need to maintain vigilance on all levels. Protecting our kids from getting infected is important for keeping schools and daycares open in Mississippi. We all know the vital nature of school for our children developmentally, academically and socially.”