More Than 3 Million People Age 65 or Older Live with School-Age Children, and Could Be at Heightened Risk of COVID-19 Infection if Children Bring the Virus Home from School

Older People of Color are More Likely to Live with a School-Age Child Compared to Their White Counterparts

About 3.3 million adults age 65 or older live in a household with school-age children, a factor that state and local officials may want to take into account when deciding when and how fully to re-open schools this fall, a new KFF analysis finds.

These older adults, who represent roughly six percent of all seniors in the U.S., live with 4.1 million school age children, who comprise about seven percent of all kids ages 5 to 18, the analysis finds. The data also show that older people of color are significantly more likely to live with a school-age child compared to their White counterparts.

All of this matters because, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older people are among those at greater risk of becoming severely ill if they get infected with the novel coronavirus, as are people of all ages with serious medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, asthma and obesity. One concern state and local officials are weighing is that children – who evidence so far indicates are at lower risk of infection with COVID-19, are much less likely to die and generally present with milder symptoms — may become infected at school and carry the virus back home, potentially infecting others in their household.

There have been reports of community spread of the virus in recent months in settings such as day cares, summer camps and college campuses. To the extent that the virus may spread in schools, too, older adults of color bear a disproportionate share of the risk of becoming infected by school children bringing the virus home.

Nearly one in five (19%) Asian and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander older adults live with a school-age child, as do 17 percent of Hispanic older adults, 13 percent of American Indian or Alaska Native older adults, and over one in ten (11%) Black older adults. In contrast, four percent of older White adults lives with a school-age child.

Even as concerns about equity in education factor into decisions about reopening schools, the potential spread of the virus from school children to older adults could exacerbate the well-documented racial disparities in the broader impacts of COVID-19, in which communities of color have accounted for a disproportionate share of cases and deaths.

For more KFF data and analyses concerning COVID-19, including a recent analysis about share of teachers at higher risk of serious illness from the virus, visit kff.org.