Hundreds of people fell sick after Covid-19 ripped through a summer camp in Georgia back in June, according to a new case report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Most worryingly, the outbreak hit dozens and dozens of young people, a group often considered to be low-risk. If the findings of the case report hold true, it could have some implications for the reopening of schools and universities, as well as the way we consider young people's role in the pandemic.
Just under 600 people attended the 3-day summer camp in late June 2020. Of the 344 tested attendees, at least 260 (76 percent) came back with positive results for Covid-19. The median age of everyone at the camp, including attendees and staff, was just 17 years old. Among those aged 6 to 10, 51 percent caught the virus; of those 11 to 17 years old, 44 percent were positive; and for 18-21 years old, it was 33 percent.
Many of these cases were asymptomatic. Of the 136 cases with available information on symptoms, just 36 patients (26 percent) reported no symptoms.
While the report says it’s not possible to rule out whether transmission occurred before or after camp attendance — the number of cases was skyrocketing in Georgia at the time — the authors conclude this is clear evidence that Covid-19 spreads efficiently in a “youth-centric overnight setting.”
“This investigation adds to the body of evidence demonstrating that children of all ages are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and, contrary to early reports, might play an important role in transmission,” the report reads.
There’s been much debate about how likely children and young people are to catch and spread the virus. Of the 149,082 reported Covid-19 cases in the US as of late April, just 1.7 percent were children, despite children making up 22 percent of the population. There’s also evidence young children are at a much lower risk of getting seriously ill from the infection. Nevertheless, this case report affirms that young people are certainly not spared from aggressive outbreaks, nor transmitting the virus, even if they exhibit mild or no symptoms.
The outbreak also highlights the importance of implementing measures to reduce the spread of the disease. While staff were required to wear cloth face coverings, campers were not. Windows and doors of the lodgings were also kept closed during the night, meaning there was very little ventilation through the buildings.
"Correct and consistent use of cloth masks, rigorous cleaning and sanitizing, social distancing, and frequent hand washing strategies, which are recommended in CDC’s recently released guidance to reopen America’s schools, are critical to prevent transmission of the virus in settings involving children and are our greatest tools to prevent COVID-19," the CDC said in a statement.
Campers also took part in “daily vigorous singing and cheering.” The finer details of transmission is still not totally understood when it comes to Covid-19, but many suspect that singing could be especially risky because it’s an extremely effective means to pump out potentially infectious respiratory particles.
In a similar vein, a previous CDC case study revealed how a single infected person spread Covid-19 to 52 other people – two of whom later died – after meeting for a church choir practice in Washington.