Coronavirus outbreak at camp infected more than 200 kids and staff

More than half of campers under 10 got the virus, confirming that young kids are at risk

kids holding marshmallows over a campfire

A coronavirus outbreak at a sleepover camp in Georgia left at least 44 percent of campers and staff infected. This included around half of the youngest kids.

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An overnight summer camp in Georgia recently became the scene of a major coronavirus outbreak. At least 260 of the 597 campers and staff tested positive. The finding confirms that even young kids can get the virus. They may also play a key role in spreading it.

Younger children had the highest rate of infection. Just over half of kids ages 6 to 10 tested positive. Christine M. Szablewski works for the Georgia Department of Health in Atlanta. She was part of a team of researchers with the state and the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga., who investigated the outbreak. They shared their findings July 31 in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The new investigation “adds to the body of evidence demonstrating that children of all ages are susceptible to [the coronavirus],” the researchers write. Most infected people at this camp showed no symptoms. That may have helped the virus spread undetected, Szablewski’s team says.

Campers arrived on June 21. The next day a teenage staff member developed symptoms. They left the camp. on June 23. That teen’s test result came back positive the next day. Right away, officials began sending campers home. The facility was officially closed on June 27.

Overall, 44 percent of people at the camp became infected. Most were campers, who ranged in age from 6 to 19. But some people were not tested or did not have results available to the researchers. So it’s possible, Szablewski and her colleagues note, that more people might have been infected. Camp officials had required anyone at the camp to show proof of a negative coronavirus test. It had to have been conducted within 12 days of arriving.

Campers participated in activities, such as singing, made up of kids staying in the same cabin. Singing is one way to share the coronavirus over distances of more than 2 meters (6 feet). Although all trainees and staff were required to wear cloth masks, campers were not. Masks have been shown to limit the spread of COVID-19, which is caused by this virus. Staff also did not keep windows and doors open to ensure buildings were well-ventilated.

It is still unclear how big a role kids play in spreading COVID-19. Some studies have suggested that kids under 10 are less likely than people in any other age group to spread the virus. But children are more likely to have milder symptoms. These infections might therefore go undetected.

Erin I. Garcia de Jesús is a staff writer at Science News. She holds a Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Washington and a master’s in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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