Into the sixth month of COVID-19 and all that we have had from COVID is uncertainty. And surprise. Surprise from the virus and surprise from people’s reactions to the virus.
The first big surprise is how children deal with the virus. Of the 13 million people infected with the virus an average of 2 per cent are children, ie under age 18. In China the figure is 2.2 per cent.
Italy 1.2 per cent. Spain 0.8 per cent. In the USA the figure is exactly 2 per cent. Since around 25 per cent of the world’s people are children, that’s a staggering difference. Children do not get COVID as much as adults do.
A second surprise is severity. Data from around the world clearly show that children are far less likely to become seriously ill from the coronavirus than adults. For example, while more than 135,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 so far, only about two dozen deaths have been children. Meanwhile, more than 1,700 children die in the United States each year from child abuse and neglect. Unsurprisingly there are alarming signs that abuse cases are on the rise as the stress of unemployment and financial insecurity has strained relationships between children and those who care for them.
Closure of schools and day cares have also forced children closer to adults who may not be safe. In 2018, nearly 80 percent of perpetrators in the USA were parents of the victim. Surprised? The same is true here.
Hear this. Malnutrition in English children has doubled in the last six months. One would naively have thought that with families locked down at home, food would not be a problem. We forget the number of families, including here in T&T, who depend on school nutrition programs to feed their children. This is not to forget that, again because of the closing of schools, some low-income students are losing a year of academic gains, which will mean more adult poverty and further street riots.
There is also some intriguing preliminary evidence that children younger than 11 or 12 don’t transmit the virus very well. Children appear to be infected by COVID-19 mainly through their family members, and children usually don’t usually spread the virus to the rest of the household. This needs to be confirmed though.
Throughout the pandemic, many child care centres in the New York area have stayed open for the children of front-line workers — everyone from doctors to grocery store clerks. YMCA of the USA and New York City’s Department of Education have been caring for tens of thousands of children since March, and both say they have no reports of coronavirus clusters or outbreaks among children, teachers or family. Another group of child care centres in the Atlanta area has found that in 916 centres serving more than 20,000 children for the last three months, just over 1 per cent of staff and 0.16 per cent of children were confirmed infected with the coronavirus.
Unsurprisingly, the virus is not transmitted as easily outdoors as it is indoors. Being outdoors lowers the chance of spreading the virus by a magnitude of 10, provided that physical distancing is maintained. But there are other reasons. Breeze disperses the virus and thins it out and the virus only survives for minutes in sunlight.
There have been a number of surprises in T&T. The most surprising has been the lack of testing. The only way to diagnose COVID-19 is to test.
If you don’t test, you don’t diagnose. In the Caribbean, only Guyana and Haiti test less than we do.
There’s the surprising position of the medical profession whose silence in the face of the greatest outbreak of infection since the polio outbreak in 1971 could be interpreted, at the best, as a remarkable show of disinterest, at worst, as incompetence.
Then there’s the dismaying acceptance of the public on the government’s slowness in bringing back Trinidadians caught outside. Are we really that uncaring? That should probably have come as no surprise. Nobody made a fuss about those obscene military convoys that were used to carry returning citizens, like prisoners, to quarantine facilities which, by the way, have never been described in the media.
What a surprise it was to learn that two of the first three businesses to be reopened after lockdown were those bastions of science and health, KFC and WITCO!
Finally there was the very experienced columnist who believes we are going to have Carnival next year and “those in charge will have to devise ways to ensure social distancing at the fetes, calypso tents and on the street.” That means everyone keeping six feet away from each other during J’ Ourvert! That will be a real surprise.