Can a paradox be broken

Can I make a forecast? Assuming that the increasing number of infections actually grows into the dreaded third wave, in a few weeks or days many will say again: It's the schools' fault! Although the growth in new infections made its giant leap by 35 percentage points (from -25 to +10) before the daycare centers and primary schools were back into (partial) regular operation.

I don't mean to say that daycare centers and schools don't play a role in the pandemic. However, I would like the debate about their contribution to the infection process to be as differentiated as possible. Not only because everything else does not do justice to the children and young people, but because other - possibly much more important - questions otherwise take a back seat. For example, how it can be that the ups and downs of the pandemic apparently happen relatively independently of the development at the daycare centers and schools, what this has to do with adults and their behavior and with open offices, factories or borders with neighboring countries with high incidences . These are the questions that the Chancellor and Prime Minister should ask themselves on Wednesday before discussing possible easing steps alongside daycare centers and schools.

First of all, what the registration numbers reveal. Then to the question of how far they can be trusted. And finally, what follows from all of this.

1. More and more children and adolescents are among the newly infected.

In the calendar week that ended yesterday, the number of new infections reported to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) among under-5s increased by almost a third (32.0 percent) to 1,813. And this value is still provisional, so it will increase as there will be many late registrations until tomorrow. In the 5 to 14 year olds 3736 new infections (+19.6 percent) were recorded, and in the 15 to 19 year olds 2960 (+12.9 percent). For comparison: in the age group of 20 to 69 year olds, the increase was 4.9 percent. In the over-70s, there was even a minus of 12.5 percent.

The reporting figures for the calendar week from February 22nd to 28th reflect the infection rate from eight to 13 days in advance, i.e. from February 9th to February 20th at the latest. In eleven federal states, the primary schools did not open again for alternating classes until February 22nd, in Lower Saxony they had been open again since mid-January, in Saxony since February 15. Most of the older children and adolescents, apart from the final year students, are still at home. Many daycare centers also resumed (limited) regular operations on February 22nd.

The proportion of newly infected under-5-year-olds among new infections in all age groups has meanwhile climbed from 2.62 to 3.32 percent within a week. Among the 5 to 14 year olds the proportion rose from 5.96 to 6.84 percent, among the 15 to 19 year olds it rose from 5.0 to 5.42 percent.

This means that the proportion of newly infected children and adolescents at the end of the daycare and school closings was at a significantly higher level than before the start of the lockdown in mid-December (0 to 4 year olds at that time: 1.80 percent; 5 to 14 year olds: 5.48 percent, 15 to 19 year olds: 4.85 percent).

The absolute figures also show that children and adolescents in lockdown had a comparatively small decline in reported new infections. The under-5-year-olds newly infected in 1813 in the past few weeks were 41.7 percent fewer than in mid-December. And the 3736 newly infected 5- to 14-year-olds meant a decrease of 61.1 percent. While the decline in all other age groups was 69.7 percent.

2. The number of reports currently underestimates the number of new infections among children and adolescents.

The corona test numbers for the past calendar week, staggered by age group, are only available on Wednesday. In the week before last, however, only a good third as many children and adolescents were tested for an infection as in mid-December, which has continued the trend of sensitive under-testing since the daycare and school closings began. In this respect, the official infection figures in children and adolescents should be taken with particular caution at the moment, because they are likely to underestimate the actual infection rate in children and adolescents significantly more than before the school closings.

The recent jump up in the number of infections, especially among 0 to 14-year-olds, could indicate a return to higher test numbers, which would bring the reported number of infections a bit closer to reality. If this assumption is confirmed in the new RKI test report on Wednesday, the big plus of the past week should not be overweighted. In any case, it is more important and noteworthy that, despite the few tests, there was a comparatively small decrease in reported new infections among children and adolescents during the lockdown.

3. Conclusion: Please watch the adults when the "third wave" comes.

The RKI recently pointed out that schoolchildren "tend not to play a greater role as a 'motor' in the spread of the coronavirus, but that the frequency is closely related to the incidence in the general population". In other words, society as a whole has a responsibility to limit itself in order to control the pandemic. Because then it can also be checked at educational institutions.

This is exactly what the reporting figures since December indicate: In relative terms, the proportion of children and adolescents in all new infections before the lockdown was lower. That it rose during the lockdown suggests that there has been greater pandemic dynamic in other age groups that has been broken.

Another important observation is that the number of infections reported by society as a whole increased again before most of the daycare and school closings ended. And we will shortly know to what extent the recently above-average numbers of infections in children and adolescents are also the result of increased tests *.

Anyone who claims that the December lockdown was only able to bring down the nationwide new infections thanks to the daycare and school closings will not find this statement substantiated in the RKI figures. And if you stand up in a few weeks and say that the renewed increase has started with the daycare centers and schools that are open again, the registration numbers are also not on your side. In any case, it would be a big mistake if the Chancellor and the Prime Minister were to think on Wednesday that they could put the brakes on in a pandemic mainly by slowing down the further school opening times - possibly even in favor of retail or (outdoor) catering .

It is to be hoped that this very differentiation would make its way into the pandemic debate. And that the lousy RKI data quality, which is undoubtedly there, does not lead to focus on children and adolescents instead of adults. The solution lies in finally more tests for all age groups and the realization that adults should first look at themselves to see how they can slow down the pandemic - instead of wanting to impose the most sensitive restrictions on the children again and above all.

* Addendum on March 03, 2021:

As expected, the increased number of infection reports among children and adolescents also expresses the test rate that has finally picked up again with the widespread opening of daycare centers and schools. This emerges from the RKI report on the weekly corona tests published today. It is all the more important to warn again and again of the false conclusion that the increased numbers are a result of the educational institutions being open again.