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Science + Tech

One-Third of Infected Kids Show No Symptoms. And More New Virus Science

The latest roundup of pandemic findings gathered by Hakai Magazine.

Brian Owens 1 Dec 2020 | Hakai Magazine

Brian Owens is a freelance science writer and editor based in St. Stephen, New Brunswick. His work has appeared in Hakai Magazine, Nature, New Scientist, the Canadian Medical Association Journal and the Lancet.

Compiled by veteran medical journalist Brian Owens, this roundup of some of the newest science on the COVID-19 pandemic, straight from the scientific journals, is presented by Hakai Magazine in partnership with The Tyee.

One-third of kids with COVID-19 show no symptoms

More than one-third of children who tested positive for COVID-19 in Alberta between March and September of this year had no symptoms of the disease. In those who tested positive that did show symptoms, the most common ones were cough, sore throat and runny nose — but those symptoms were even more common among kids who tested negative, so they are not reliable signs of COVID-19. The loss of taste and smell, headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, however, were the symptoms most strongly associated with a positive test in kids.

Canadian Medical Association Journal, Nov. 24, 2020

Sex hormones may have a protective effect

Women, especially those of reproductive age, are less likely to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 if they are exposed at the same rate as men, according to a study of Canadian patients by researchers at York University in Ontario. The finding suggests that estrogens may play a role in reducing COVID-19 incidence for women who have gone through puberty but not menopause.

But while estrogens may play a role in reducing COVID-19 infections, it is unlikely that they play a major role in reducing the severity of COVID-19 once someone gets it. And, since more women tend to work in high-risk jobs in health care, long-term care, and child care, women are actually more likely to get COVID-19 in Canada, despite the protective effect of estrogens.

Journal of Ovarian Research, Nov. 24, 2020

Viral mutations may not be increasing transmissibility

Two weeks ago, we highlighted a study that reported a strain of SARS-CoV-2, known as D614G, had a mutation that made it easier for the virus to spread, with the result that it is now the most common strain worldwide. Another study has since refuted the finding. Researchers looked at all of the known virus mutations and found that none appear to be associated with increased viral transmission, including D614G. Instead, the researchers believe D614G became the top strain because it emerged early and went up in frequency as the number of COVID-19 cases rose — an evolutionary phenomenon known as the “founder effect.”

Nature Communications, Nov. 25, 2020

Historical biases in genetic studies limit COVID-19 research

The human genome has more than 2,000 genes that are relevant to COVID-19, but researchers are only studying about 600 of them, according to a new study of pandemic-related genetic research. Although researchers know that many overlooked genes may play an important role in COVID-19, they have mainly focused on the genes that were already heavily studied before the new coronavirus emerged — because these genes are the easiest ones to work with. This could mean that important discoveries are being missed. The study also found that studies of COVID-19 genes are becoming less expansive as the pandemic goes on.

eLife, Nov. 24, 2020

Narcissists love to be essential workers

The elevation of people doing important work during the pandemic to “hero” status has been a boon to those with narcissism. Essential workers, including those in restaurants, grocery and retail stores, who scored highly on measures of narcissism, tended to share more about their jobs on social media and in person — and that sharing increased their narcissistic feelings.

Personality and Individual Differences, Nov. 23, 2020

Most lungs recover well

In most cases, the lung tissue in people who suffered from severe COVID-19 infections shows good recovery after three months. Residual damage to lung tissue was generally limited and is most often seen in patients who were treated in intensive care. Many people continue to experience fatigue, shortness of breath, and chest pains for months after recovering from COVID-19, but the researchers say that is also common in similar diseases like acute pneumonia, and that COVID-19 patients show a similar level of recovery.

Clinical Infectious Diseases, Nov. 21, 2020


How the virus gets into the brain

COVID-19 affects not only the respiratory system, but also the central nervous system, causing neurological symptoms like headache, fatigue, nausea and a loss of smell and taste. A new study has shown how the virus enters the brain and nervous system: it appears to move from the mucus membranes in the nose to the nearby olfactory nerves to gain entry to the brain. Once there, the virus can infect the brain areas that receive smell and taste signals, as well as other areas, including the medulla oblongata — the brain’s primary respiratory and cardiovascular control centre.

Nature Neuroscience, Nov. 30, 2020

Shutdowns affected low-income Black Americans more

In addition to experiencing more infections and higher death rates from COVID-19, low-income Black Americans also experienced greater job loss, more food and medicine insecurity, and higher indebtedness in the early months of the pandemic compared to low-income white or Latinx households. As the pandemic progressed, low-income families experienced more insecurity, and were forced to take on more debt to manage their expenses, meaning that even when the pandemic ends, many will still be in a financial hole.

Socius, Nov. 25, 2020

Some chemicals in food can inhibit a COVID-19 enzyme

Chemical compound in some foods like green tea, muscadine grapes and dark chocolate can block an important enzyme that the SARS-CoV-2 virus uses to replicate itself. Researchers looked at how a number of plant compounds already known to have anti-inflammatory properties interact with an important viral enzyme known as the main protease. Computer simulations and lab experiments found that the compounds could bind to different parts of the protease and inhibit its function. The compounds in green tea and muscadine grapes appeared to be particularly effective.

Frontiers in Plant Science, Nov. 30, 2020  [Tyee]

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