Don’t Limit Child Custody Due to COVID-19

Martin Kulldorff

May 5, 2020 by Martin Kulldorff, Ph.D.

Children have an extremely low risk of dying from COVID-19. Hence, there is no reason to change parenting schedules or prevent a child from seeing a parent because of COVID-19.

Among children under age 15, only nine COVID-19 death had been reported in the United States by May 1. When looking at data since February 1, this can be compared to 101 children dying from pneumonia, 81 from influenza and 5,520 total deaths in this age group.

Are these low numbers due to the lockdown and school closings? To answer that, let’s look at Sweden, one of the few western countries that never closed its elementary schools. You may think this would put children at risk, but no. While the country has had thousands of deaths among adults, not a single child have died from COVID-19.

Are there any exceptions when a change in parenting schedule could be warranted? Yes, there are. If a child lives with a person over the age of 60 or 70, it is advisable to protect that older high-risk person from being infected by the child, and one option is then to have the child stay with the other parent. To give up time with a child is a decision that should be made by the family with the older person though. As an argument to prevent the child from seeing the other parent, it falls flat, as it is not the child that is at risk.

What about parents that are at high risk of being exposed to COVID-19 because they work as a medical doctor or nurse? Even if they get the disease and pass it on, there is no major risk to the child. I have 50/50 shared parenting of my four-year-old twins, and their mother works as a nurse at a major hospital, while my scientific work now must be done from home. She is likely to become infected at some points, and then infect our kids, but I am not worried about them. It would be both dishonest of me and detrimental to the children if I used COVID-19 as an excuse to limit their time with their mother. Children need both parents.

Every death of child is a tragedy, but very few of those deaths are due to COVID-19. On the contrary, while COVID-19 is a terrible disease among the elderly, it may actually have lowered the health risk of children, since lower traffic volumes have led to fewer traffic accidents and deaths. So, make sure your child gets to see both parents during this lockdown, but please, drive carefully when you drop them off and drive carefully when you pick them up. The children are our most valuable treasures.

Martin Kulldorff is a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School

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