Skip to content
The Morning Dispatch: Can Kids Transmit COVID-19 After All?
Go to my account

The Morning Dispatch: Can Kids Transmit COVID-19 After All?

Plus, the life and legacy of John Lewis.

Happy Monday! After a two-week recess, Congress is officially back in session today with much to accomplish. From the next COVID relief package to police reform, we look forward to our leaders putting their differences aside, focusing on the important issues at hand, and delivering results for the American people. (Editor’s note: Sarcasm, we think?)

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • A total of 56,759 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the United States yesterday, with 7.4 percent of the 768,823 tests reported coming back positive. With 381 new deaths attributed to the virus Sunday, the pandemic’s American death toll reached 140,500.

  • John Lewis—civil rights leader and longtime congressman from Georgia—died on Friday from pancreatic cancer at the age of 80.

  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 87, announced on Friday that she is undergoing chemotherapy treatment for a recurrence of pancreatic cancer in her liver. “I have often said I would remain a member of the Court as long as I can do the job full steam,” she said in a statement. “I remain fully able to do that.”

  • A federal judge in Maryland on Friday ordered the Trump administration to begin accepting new applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program after last month’s Supreme Court decision on the issue.

  • The Trump administration is considering reducing American military presence in South Korea after the president demanded that South Korea increase its financial contributions to keep U.S. forces stationed there. No formal decision has been made. 

  • Joe Biden released a five-step school reopening plan over the weekend, calling on Congress to allocate $34 billion to ensure schools have enough funding to comply with CDC guidelines and upgrade their technology and broadband systems.

  • The Pentagon on Friday effectively banned all displays of the Confederate flag in all Defense Department workplaces and public areas. “The flags we fly must accord with the military imperatives of good order and discipline, treating all our people with dignity and respect, and rejecting divisive symbols,” wrote Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

  • Progressive newcomer Jamaal Bowman was officially declared the winner of New York’s 16th District Democratic primary over Eliot Engel, a 32-year veteran of Congress and current chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

  • The Department of Homeland Security confirmed over the weekend it had used unmarked vehicles in Portland, Oregon, to detain protesters without explanation. The unmarked vehicles, acting DHS Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said, were used to keep officers safe and “move people to a safe location for questioning.” Oregon officials—from Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, to Sen. Jeff Merkley, to Gov. Kate Brown—have expressed dissatisfaction with DHS’s presence in the state and encouraged them to leave. Violent protests have raged in Portland for more than six weeks. 

Can Kids Transmit COVID-19 After All?

Summer is flying by, and the question of whether and how schools will be able to reopen their doors is becoming more urgent. As school districts and states mull how to answer that question, perhaps the most important factor for consideration—whether children are less likely to transmit the virus than adults—has been largely an unknown.

This week, however, we’ve gotten a substantial new data point: a contact-tracing study of nearly 60,000 people in South Korea who had contracted or came into contact with the virus between January and March this year.

The bottom line: Children under 10 seem to transmit the virus less effectively than adults—with one big caveat we’ll get to in a minute—but 10- to 19-year-olds seem to spread it as much as the rest of us.

Thanks to South Korea’s muscular contact tracing efforts, the researchers, who are affiliated with the Korea Centers for Disease Control and the Hallym University College of Medicine, had access to a comprehensive timeline of who had the virus and when across the country as the pandemic broke out in the early months of 2020.

This dataset allowed the researchers to focus on the window of time when schools were closed and social distancing was at its maximum. They used the data to identify the first member of each affected household to show viral symptoms, and tracked what percentage of the household contacts of each of those “index cases” subsequently came down with the disease.

Grouping that data according to age—0 to 9, 10 to 19, 20 to 29, and so on—gave the researchers a good look at which cohorts of index cases were better or worse at spreading the thing to their household contacts.

For kids under 10, that number was low but not insignificant: Only 5.3 percent of their household contacts subsequently tested positive. For those age 10 to 19, however, that number was a more worrisome 18.6 percent. For index cases of all other age groups combined, 11.6 percent of household contacts subsequently tested positive. 

The aforementioned caveat: As always while working with statistics, the more you subdivide the data, the less reliable your results become. Unsurprisingly, given this virus’s tendency to spare the young, the vast majority of the 5,706 index cases studied were adults. Only 124 were in the tweens/teens category; a scant 29 were under 10.

Two conclusions follow. The transmission rate of 5.3 percent for those under 10 might not be that useful. The authors acknowledge this by hedging with a huge margin of error range of 1.3 to 13.7 percent. This is a major difference. If young kids are transmitting the virus to one in 100 contacts, that would obviously have hugely different policy ramifications than if they are transmitting it to one in eight.

This also underscores why “are children viral spreaders” is a question that has proven so difficult to answer in the first place, despite being one of the most pressing questions facing the world. You could hardly wish for a better COVID transmission dataset to play around with than the one produced by South Korea’s world-beating contact tracing system. And yet even that system produced only the meager, statistically grainy handful of index-case kids discussed here.

For purposes of the question of reopening schools, however, the data seems clear enough to be worrisome. For older kids in particular, there’s real evidence here (and in earlier smaller-scale studies) to suggest that reopening schools will create a vector of transmission no less than reopening other public spaces.

How this information will penetrate the policy sphere remains to be seen. Last week, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany insisted that schools should plan to reopen and dismissed concerns that they could turn into pandemic petri dishes. “The science is on our side here,” she said, “and we encourage for localities and states to just simply follow the science, open our schools.”

With luck, these last weeks of summer will shine still more light on the question of youth transmissibility. But the science already shows enough to give us reason to worry.

John Lewis Tethered Us to Our Past

John Lewis, the son of Alabama sharecroppers, was only 23 years old when he addressed the more than 250,000 people gathered on the National Mall for the March on Washington in 1963. 

“We are tired of being beaten by policemen. We are tired of seeing our people locked up in jail over and over again.” His voice shook. “How long can we be patient? We want our freedom, and we want it now. We do not want to go to jail. But we will go to jail if this is the price we must pay for love, brotherhood, and true peace.”

Those were not empty words. Lewis was arrested 40 times from 1960 to 1966 protesting for racial justice, first as one of the 13 original Freedom Riders, then as the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He and fellow demonstrators throughout the years were tear gassed and beaten senseless by police and attacked by white vigilantes; Lewis had his skull fractured marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. “We were determined not to let any act of violence keep us from our goal,” Lewis later said, reflecting on his ‘60s activism. “We knew our lives could be threatened, but we had made up our minds not to turn back.” President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, and Voting Rights Act a year later.

Lewis first announced he was undergoing treatment for Stage IV pancreatic cancer in December. He died on Friday at age 80.

Congress, where Lewis had served since 1987, will not be the same without him. The country won’t, either. As is the case with World War II veterans—only 300,000 of the more than 16 million who fought are alive today—we are losing leaders of the civil rights struggle at an accelerating pace. Lewis was the youngest and the last surviving member of the “Big Six” March on Washington organizers: Martin Luther King, James Farmer, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, and Whitney Young.

Lewis brought far more than his reliably Democratic voting record to Capitol Hill. His mere presence—and the scars his body bore until the day he died—served as not only a living memorial to America’s troubled racial history, but a testament to how much closer we’ve come to our founding ideals in the decades since. Lewis approached Barack Obama after the 44th president’s historic inauguration in 2009 and asked him to sign a piece of paper. Obama’s note: “Because of you, John. — Barack Obama.”

In his later years, Lewis would encourage students and young people to get into what he deemed “good trouble,” referencing his own past run-ins with the law. “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up,” he said. “You have to say something; you have to do something.”

Lewis’s activist streak extended well into his congressional tenure. He boycotted George W. Bush’s inauguration in 2001, and Donald Trump’s in 2017. He was arrested in 2009 outside the Sudanese Embassy protesting genocide in Darfur. He led dozens of Democrats in a sit-in on the House floor in 2016 hoping to force Republicans’ hand on gun control legislation. In one of his final acts, he wrote a letter to Attorney General Barr expressing his dissatisfaction with the state of voting rights in America seven years after the Supreme Court’s Shelby v. Holder decision. “In justifying the Shelby v. Holder decision, the Majority argued that blatant, racist discrimination is rare; looking at the current state of our country, we know this to be false,” Lewis wrote. “The record is clear. A rampant war is being waged against minorities’ voting rights in my home state of Georgia and across the nation.”

His GOP colleagues didn’t always appreciate these tactics, of course, but they respected Lewis himself. Over the years, he earned himself the “conscience of Congress” nickname. “You did not need to agree with John on many policy details to be awed by his life, admire his dedication to his neighbors in Georgia’s Fifth District, or appreciate his generous, respectful, and friendly bearing,” Sen. Mitch McConnell said in a statement. “No one embodied the word ‘courage’ better than John Lewis,” his fellow Georgian Sen. David Perdue added. Sen. Tim Scott said that when he was first elected to Congress, Lewis “sat down with [him] and reminded [him] to never let the challenges of life make you bitter. He held fast to the conviction that we are better together and love will always conquer hate.”

Obama commemorated his hero in a lengthy statement on Saturday. “[Lewis] loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise,” the former president wrote. “And through the decades, he not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice, but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example.”

“Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way. John Lewis did.”

Worth Your Time

  • More than five years since Donald Trump came down the escalator and declared himself a candidate for the Republican nomination, the American news media, for the most part, is still figuring out how to cover him. The journalistic conventions of the past several decades simply were not built for a politician like Trump. But Chris Wallace’s recent interview of the president—recorded last week, aired yesterday—was a master class in how to do it. Wallace was respectful and fair in asking Trump about the coronavirus, race relations, Joe Biden, and more, but he did not hesitate to challenge the president on his more dubious statements. Take the time to watch the whole thing here.

  • Few outlets knew John Lewis better than the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. So be sure to read this tribute to Lewis from Tamar Hallerman, on Lewis’s role as “confessor to those repenting of racism.” Lewis and his staff often found letters of apology in the mail, Hallerman writes. “They came from the children and grandchildren of people who fought in the 1960s against him and other civil rights activists —and even from those who remained on the sidelines.”

  • In 2002, John Judis and Ruy Teixeira published The Emerging Democratic Majority, which argued that the Democratic Party should take advantage of economic, social, and demographic trends that were already working in its favor. Democratic operatives, Teixeira argues in a piece for Persuasion, have misinterpreted the book’s thesis, that it’s only a matter of time before demographic trends doom the Republican Party. “We also emphasized that building this majority would require a very broad coalition, including many voters drawn from the white working class. This crucial nuance was quickly lost,” Teixeira writes. “With the exception of Obama’s victory in 2012, Democrats lost just about every important election for the next eight years. … If Democrats don’t correct their misunderstanding of what it takes for them to win elections, the next decade could turn out to be just as bitter as the last.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • We’re living in heyday of conspiracy theories? Of all groups that should reject them, evangelical Christians should be among the first, David writes in Sunday’s French Press. Christian theology permeates evangelicals’ marriages, work lives, and schooling, but is noticeably absent in their political engagement. “We connect our faith with our political objectives but do far less work connecting our faith to our political conduct or our theological priorities,” he writes. “This is not the way we engage with other significant areas of life.”

  • If you missed David’s special Friday French Press, be sure to check that out too! He forecasts three possible outcomes of a Trump vs. Biden faceoff and gives us a glimpse into what the Republican Party—and the conservative movement writ large—might look like after the election.

  • On this week’s foreign policy episode of The Dispatch Podcast, Sarah, Steve, and Tom Joscelyn dive into Trump’s business-minded foreign affairs strategy in the Middle East, China and Russia’s deep-seated anti-Americanism, and the implications of a Biden presidency for American interests abroad.

  • The economic lockdowns and social distancing have made urban living more challenging and less popular. In normal times, city dwellers will trade the discomfort of living in a small apartment for vibrant cultural experiences. But when the economy is locked down and everyone is shut in? That’s a different story. Samuel J. Abrams runs the numbers on the number of Americans who are considering a move to smaller areas.

Let Us Know

Does the new information (above) about young people spreading the virus change your views on whether kids should physically go back school in the fall? What are schools in your area doing? If you were designing the plan, what would you recommend?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Nate Hochman (@njhochman), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photograph of dad and daughter wearing masks by Noam Galai/Getty Images. Photograph of John Lewis marching by William Lovelace/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.