US kids, parents perform DIY tests for coronavirus science

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Mendy McNulty swabs the nose of her son, Andrew, 7, Tuesday, July 28, 2020, in their home in Mount Juliet, Tenn. Six thousand U.S. parents and kids are swabbing their noses twice a week to answer some of the most vexing mysteries about the coronavirus. The answers could help determine the safety of in-class education during the pandemic. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

In a comfy suburb just outside Nashville, a young family swabs their noses twice a month in a DIY study seeking answers to some of the most vexing questions about the coronavirus.

How many U.S. children and teens are infected? How many kids who are infected show no symptoms? How likely are they to spread it to other kids and adults?

“The bottom line is we just don’t know yet the degree to which children can transmit the virus,” said Dr. Tina Hartert of Vanderbilt University, who is leading the government-funded study.

Evidence from the U.S., China and Europe shows children are less likely to become infected with the virus than adults and also less likely to become seriously ill when they do get sick. There is also data suggesting that young children don’t spread the virus very often but that kids aged 10 and up may spread it just as easily as adults. The new study aims to find more solid proof.

“If we don’t see significant transmission within households, that would be very reassuring,” Hartert said.

Some 2,000 families in 11 U.S. cities are enrolled in the DIY experiment, pulled from participants in previous government research. In all, that's 6,000 people. They have no in-person contact with researchers. Testing supplies are mailed to their homes.

They collect their own nasal swabs for COVID-19 tests, and less often blood and stool samples. The specimens are mailed to the study organizers. Participants get text messages asking about symptoms and reminding them to test and they fill out questionnaires.

The study could help determine the safety of in-class education during the pandemic. But results aren’t expected before year’s end.