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What do we know right now about kids and rising COVID cases?

A lot of parents are worried about the reported rise in COVID cases in children. School is starting soon (often maskless), the vaccine isn't available for the under 12-year-old crowd, and the headlines can feel overwhelming. How can a parent make sense of all the news?

COVID-19 Cases right now:

The number of daily cases of COVID is rising dramatically. The CDC reported that “In late June, our 7-day moving average of reported cases was around 12,000. On July 27, the 7-day moving average of cases reached over 60,000.” There are breakthrough infections, but the vast majority of the cases are in the unvaccinated.

Delta Variant:

This variant is about twice as contagious as the original strain, with about one thousand times the viral load in the noses of those infected. The delta variant accounts for about 80% of current US cases (likely more, but data is always changing!)

Kids and COVID:

Kids* previously accounted for about 14% of all COVID cases, and now (in the most recent American Academy of Pediatrics report) they account for around 19%. In raw case numbers, there were 72,000 pediatrics cases added in the past week (compared to 39,000 the previous week). This isn’t a surprise, given the virus is circulating more in unvaccinated populations. The good news is, children still don’t get nearly as sick as adults. As evidenced earlier, less than one-fifth of all COVID cases occur in children, and of them, only 0.1%-1.9% of all child COVID-19 cases result in hospitalization and 0.00%-0.03% of all child COVID-19 cases have resulted in death. Due to the increase in overall cases, we are seeing more hospitalizations, but the delta variant does not seem to cause more hospitalizations than other strains (from what we’ve seen so far).

*Definition of “child” is based on varying age ranges reported across states, with ranges including 0-14, 0-17, 0-18, 0-19, and 0-20 years (see AAP report appendix for state-specific data)

The real problem: RSV and other winter viruses plus COVID

RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) cases, typically a winter virus, are skyrocketing this summer. RSV infections can cause infants and toddlers to be hospitalized for breathing support, often requiring ICU level care. One study in New York suggests that RSV has been causing a significant increase in ICU admissions this year, possibly because kids have had less exposure to RSV and therefore fewer chances to develop some immunity. In 2020, 45% of the children hospitalized required ICU-level care, but in 2021 they admitted 81% of hospitalized patients to the ICU, which means that ICUs are near or at capacity in many areas and even a small increase in extra cases of viruses like COVID could become a significant problem.

So what can you do?

Lots of handwashing, mask-wearing, and supporting your child’s immune system (see my most recent post)! Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to worse outcomes in COVID, so consider supplementing (many kids and adults don’t get enough vitamin D anyway!). Limit unnecessary exposure and make sure to keep your child home when they are sick to avoid spreading illness. Get vaccinated yourself, and have your child get the vaccine when it’s approved and available. Make sure close contacts are vaccinated too whenever possible. Do your best, but know that severe infections are pretty rare! Parents have been under a lot of stress, so please also give yourself a break. Kids need to go to school too and, hopefully, a kid's vaccine is around the corner. This is going to be a rough fall and winter, but we’ll get through it!


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