The role of children and young people in the pandemic
The majority of knowledge we have about infection in children and young people applies to the original strain of the virus. Children catch and spread the virus around half as much as adults, including the new virus strains. Young people transmit the virus to a greater degree than children, but less than adults. Children and young people are most often infected within their household, followed by private gatherings or at kindergarten/school.
Infections at schools and kindergartens reflect the infection level in wider society: when infection rates increase in local communities, the number of infected children and young people also increases. Local measures therefore help control the spread of the virus and make it possible to keep schools open. New and more contagious strains of the virus increase the likelihood of cases at kindergartens and schools because the strains are more contagious in all age groups (ECDC). When very strict social contact restrictions are imposed for other age groups, schools and kindergartens are the few places where people still meet. For this reason, cases of infection and outbreaks can occur, even with strictly enforced infection control measures.
It is first and foremost symptomatic individuals who are contagious and the virus is most infectious when a person begins to show symptoms. The majority of children and young people will have very mild illness and it is estimated that 20-50% will have no symptoms whatsoever when infected. Children have fewer symptoms than adults and are therefore less contagious. Young people become more ill than children, but to a lesser degree than adults. The UK variant, which has spread widely in Norway, is more contagious in all age groups, but the distribution by age group is comparable to the original strain (Public Health England).
Young people have a wider social circle and geographically spread contact network than children. Higher infection rates can therefore occur among young people than children. However, the risk of an increased spread of infection among young people can be counteracted by the fact that young people are better able to respond and adhere to the recommended infection control measures than younger children.
It is important that children and young people are subjected to as few restrictions as possible and it is especially important to keep schools and kindergartens open. The overall negative effects of closed schools are significant. Consequently, the effectiveness of closure to limit the spread of infection should only be considered as a last resort. The traffic light model was precisely developed to keep schools open during different infection levels in the community.