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VERIFY: Headlines are taking a quote about COVID-19 transmission rates from child to adult out of context

While there is evidence to suggest children play a limited role in spreading COVID-19, there isn't evidence to suggest they cannot transmit it at all.

WASHINGTON —

“Children Don’t Pass Covid-19 to Adults, Report Indicates,” read one headline. “No case of a child passing coronavirus to an adult exists, evidence review shows,” read another.

The articles referenced studies, the World Health Organization, a British organization called the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and quoted multiple doctors. Based on the sources, the story appeared sound.

But it quickly became clear it wasn’t as sound as it seemed. Multiple people and organizations referred to in the stories quickly distanced themselves from the claims.

So what happened?

THE QUESTION

Did a study find COVID-19 doesn’t pass from children to adults?

THE ANSWER

No, that’s not what was said. A single line from a literature review was taken out of context.

WHAT WE FOUND

The news stories reference a literature review of COVID-19 from the lens of pediatrics. The review was conducted by Don’t Forget the Bubbles, a British group that specializes in disseminating pediatric information.

On page five of the review, there is the quote, “Notably, the China/WHO joint commission could not recall episodes during contact tracing where transmission occurred from a child to an adult.” There is no other mention to this joint commission within the review.

Running with that lone quote as headline news leaves out the important context of the sentence before, however. “The role of children in passing the disease to others is unknown, in particular given large numbers of asymptomatic cases.”

The review’s coordinator, Alasdair Munro, also denied the assertion made by these claims. “Children almost certainly DO transmit COVID-19,” he said in a tweet.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, called RCPCH, was linked to this report despite the review making no mention of them. They have also come out with a statement explicitly refuting the claims.

“A number of media reports, citing RCPCH, have incorrectly suggested that children cannot transmit COVID-19. This is not the RCPCH position, nor is it based on evidence. Our own research and evidence summary explicitly states that the evidence about children in transmitting the virus remains unclear, in particular given the number of asymptomatic cases,” they said.

The RCPCH has put together research summaries of various questions regarding COVID-19 and children. Their exact answer to the question "Can children transmit the virus?" is, “The importance of children in transmitting the virus remains unclear, in particular given the number of asymptomatic cases, but there is some evidence that their role in transmitting the virus is fairly limited. There is some evidence of asymptomatic transmission.”

BOTTOM LINE

A literature review stated a WHO commission could not recall any transmission from a child to an adult through contact tracing in China. That part is true.

However, that doesn’t mean that a study found that children can’t spread COVID-19. The people cited in these reports have contradicted this claim and said the role of children in spreading the virus remains unclear, but that there is some evidence that they play a limited role in transmitting the virus.

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