A new study has suggested the Chicken Little-like predictions of doom for children who return to school without masks may be so much hen clacking.
The study was conducted by University College London. While it has yet to be published or peer-reviewed, it was summarized by the British Medical Journal.
Terence Stephenson, one of the researchers, told the BBC the study’s bottom line is that long COVID cases are “nowhere near what people thought in the worst-case scenario,” when initial fears were that perhaps 50 percent of children infected could have long COVID.
Some had pushed the panic button when earlier numbers emerged.
“The potential impact is huge,” said Dr. Avindra Nath, chief of infections of the nervous system at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, in an interview with The New York Times. “I mean, they’re in their formative years. Once you start falling behind, it’s very hard because the kids lose their own self-confidence too. It’s a downward spiral.”
Other reports, however, indicated that fears were outstripping facts.
“This study found a low prevalence of symptoms compatible with long COVID in a randomly selected cohort of children assessed 6 months after serologic testing,” researchers wrote in a study published in July by the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The University College London study built upon past results and sampled not only infected children but a control group, noting that some symptoms of long COVID could be caused by any number of other ailments.
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Researchers studied both the physical and mental health of young people between the ages of 11 and 17 and found that school closures have increased anxiety among children.
Dr. Liz Whittaker of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said the results indicate the imperative to get “back to normal” and fully reopen schools.
The study followed two groups — one of children who had been infected and one of those who had not.
Researchers estimated that only one in seven children, about 14 percent, developed long COVID.
The actual number could be much lower. The study noted that it had a low response rate of 13.5 percent and posited that those who had symptoms were more likely to respond than those who had none.
The authors suggested that if the responses only came from children with symptoms, the actual long COVID rate could be around 2 percent.
“The difference between the positive and negative groups is greater if we look at multiple symptoms, with those who had a positive test twice as likely to report three or more symptoms 15 weeks later,” the study’s lead author, Sir Terence Stephenson, told The Guardian.
“Overall, it’s better than people would’ve guessed back in December,” he added, according to Reuters.