Will school infections result in “long COVID”?
Editor's note: This is the second article in a series on coronavirus testing in K-12 schools. Read about the impact of variants in the first article and “preventing outbreaks” in the third article.
As COVID-19 has made its way through communities, the younger populations haven't been impacted as much when it comes to symptoms and severity . However, that doesn’t mean children are spared from experiencing long term health effects following the recovery of COVID-19. This condition, known as “long COVID”, was initially described in adults, but evidence that these symptoms develop in children is now forcing researchers to take a closer look on its impact to young individuals.
“It needs to be taken seriously,” noted Alok Patel, a pediatrician at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, in a recent interview. “Even though COVID itself—the acute infection—presented less severe in children, long COVID is very debilitating, isolating and scary for families.” 
The physical symptoms of long COVID includes shortness of breath, fatigue, and heart palpitations. There can also be behavioral symptoms, such as trouble concentrating, lack of participation, which can impact study habits, grades, and athletic performance.
Estimates of how common long COVID is in children vary, but the latest survey reported up to 40% of children in Italy and approximately 15–20% of children in England had at least one symptom two months after their COVID-19 diagnosis . It is unclear how many children in the United States have been affected, but pinning this down is crucial because decisions on how to safely reopen schools can depend on an accurate assessment.
The best way to keep children from experiencing long COVID is to keep them from getting infected by limiting their exposure to people who are contagious. With schools conducting in-person instruction and the now reduced use of masks and social distancing in conjunction with kids being more likely to not show symptoms when infected, schools may prove to be the location where COVID-19 has the best chance of widespread infection. The most effective way to ensure an outbreak does not occur in schools is regular coronavirus testing of students and staff. Testing in schools is supported by government funds to help limit costs for school, can be less invasive and an extremely effective way to monitor the spread of COVID-19.
“Schools are now a major point of concern as centers for COVID-19 transmission, particularly with the new variants. Testing provides a critical early warning system and should be considered an essential part of every school’s prevention strategy.”
– Manoj Gandhi, Senior Medical Director, Genetic Testing Division, Thermo Fisher Scientific
Comprehensive K-12 coronavirus testing can be quickly implemented with the Thermo Fisher Scientific ReadyCheckGo testing program. With pooled sampling to keep costs more efficient, swabbing done quickly by students, and prepaid return shipping, this program is designed to make in-school coronavirus testing an easy reality for students, educators and parents alike.
Video: Implement coronavirus testing in K-12 schools
Will schools be the next source of COVID outbreaks?