Despite such precautions, some children will inevitably become infected with the virus. This is a serious problem, but the available data can help us put the health risks to children in perspective.
Although children are not immune from serious complications, their chances of becoming severely compromised by COVID-19 are low. There are more than 1.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. right now. By a credible estimate, children account for about 50,000 of them.
As with adults, the risks are higher for children with serious comorbidities—diabetes, cancer, immunosuppression, obesity, and so on. Indeed, a study of 46 intensive-care units found that more than 80 percent of children hospitalized because of the coronavirus had preexisting conditions. Unfortunately, not enough data are available to determine the true number of hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and total COVID-19 deaths among children. However, data on hospitalizations from pediatric ICUs suggest that fewer than 500 children have been admitted, with 26 deaths. In the epicenter of the outbreak—New York City—only 10 children have died out of nearly 16,000 total deaths. These deaths are tragic, but the number is strikingly low, given the scale of the pandemic—and in comparison with the other risks that children face. In an average year, about 12,000 children die from unintentional injuries, such as those sustained in motor-vehicle accidents. In 2020, the coronavirus will be a leading cause of death among American adults, but far down the list for children.
Read: America’s patchwork pandemic is fraying even further
COVID-19 is distinct from other infections, such as H1N1 and malaria, which strike children harder than they do adults. Most important, in countries that have reopened some schools, such as Denmark and Germany, infections appear to have risen modestly, but no evidence indicates that a massive outbreak has occurred among children—or adults. Completely protecting children from harm is impossible, but the available evidence suggests that, for most children in the United States, the risk of COVID-19 at summer camp is very modest.
In fact, camps’ greatest risk is to adults—to camp counselors, camp administrators, parents, and other adults in children’s households. That many on-the-ground camp counselors are, in practice, under 25 is helpful in minimizing hazards. Older camp administrators who choose to reopen will have to devise precautions to protect themselves. Those who are more risk averse can’t be forced to work. Families would be under no obligation to enroll their children. For some parents, such as those with serious health problems or those living in multigenerational houses, sending kids back and forth to camp may be too much of a risk. For others, camp will offer both them and their children a welcome relief. Families will have to make educated decisions based on their own comfort level.