Fact-check: Republican Arizona school chief candidate said kids are resistant to COVID-19

Fact-check: Republican Arizona school chief candidate said kids are resistant to COVID-19


  • In Arizona and nationally, children are much less likely than older people to become seriously ill or die from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
  • The trend for infections is more complicated; at times, the infection rate for children has been lower than for older people. Later in the pandemic, it was higher.
  • Whether they show symptoms or not, infected children can pass the virus on to others.

See the sources for this fact-check

School shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic became a topic of discussion during the Arizona superintendent of public instruction debate. Republican Tom Horne attacked Democrat Kathy Hoffman, the incumbent, for being too ready to close schools during the pandemic.

“Kids are resistant to COVID as opposed to older people,” Horne said in the Sept. 14 debate on Arizona PBS.

Debate moderator Ted Simons pointed out that children can still become infected with the virus and spread it to their families.

We asked Horne to clarify what he meant when he said children are resistant to COVID-19. He said it was a matter of degree, and pointed to an Arizona Republic news article on COVID-19 deaths.

“12 deaths in a year to minors from COVID, versus tens of thousands for older people,” Horne said.

But deaths are just one way to measure the threat from the coronavirus.

COVID-19 in children

Throughout the pandemic, the death rate for children 17 and younger has been much lower than that of older adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the winter of 2021, the pandemic’s peak, the death rate for children 5 to 11 was 0.02 per 100,000, while for people older than 75, it was over 58 deaths per 100,000.

But infections followed a different path. Although generally lower for the young than for the old, in January 2022, the case rate among children 5 to 11 was 1,554 per 100,000. By contrast, the rate for people older than 75 was about half that — 697 per 100,000.

There are many reasons for this gap. By that point in the pandemic, there were more practices to protect this most vulnerable group, including vaccinations, for which older people qualified first.

A Harvard Medical School article reviewed a number of studies and found that children could still spread the virus even if they showed few or no COVID-19 symptoms. “Infected children had as much, or more, coronavirus in their upper respiratory tracts as infected adults,” the Sept. 16 review said.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, since the beginning of the pandemic, COVID-19 has killed 22,520 people older than 65, representing 71% of the state’s COVID deaths. In the same period, the disease has killed 72 people younger than 20.

Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at University of California, Davis Children’s Hospital, emphasized that COVID-19 remains a risk to children.

“Although COVID is generally more severe in older adults compared to children, children also may be infected and sometimes have severe outcomes,” Blumberg said.

Our ruling

Horne said that “Kids are resistant to COVID as opposed to older people.”

The virus is far less likely to kill children than older people, but at times, children have been more likely to get infected. And whether they show symptoms or not, they can still pass the disease to more vulnerable people, including people far older than they are.

We rate this claim Half True.