Researchers are still learning about the effect of COVID-19 on children, but a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study shows that young people may be as vulnerable to contracting and spreading the virus as anyone else.
In fact, nearly 100,000 children in the United States contracted COVID-19 in the last two weeks of July alone, according to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association. More than 400,000 children have tested positive for COVID-19 to date, which is more than 9 percent of all cases. That number is expected to rise.
Children are Getting Sick and Can Spread the Virus
Most children who test positive do not experience symptoms with the same severity as many adults. Others will spread the virus without even knowing that they have it. A Lancet study that looked at more than 500 children in 21 countries found that their COVID-19 symptoms were “generally mild,” but, more than half required hospitalization.
Children are getting infected and remain at risk of serious illness. A third of pediatric COVID-19 cases are between the ages 15-17, according to the CDC and studies show that children age 10 and older may get infected at the same rate as adults.
It is true that young people are a small portion of the positive cases, but, as schools reopen and activities resume, the vulnerability of our nation’s children will continue to be assessed. We know today that children under 18 account for less than 0.1 percent of the deaths. Still, about six in every 100,000 school-age kids are hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the CDC.
Just how easily children spread the virus is still being studied. Children under five may host as much as 100 times the amount of the virus that adults carry, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics. This means while young children may not experience severe symptoms, they are still likely to contribute significantly to the spreading of the virus throughout the community.
There are important questions yet to be answered about the ways this virus impacts children. Reports of brain damage or seizures or other health consequences are concerning. There are cases where children who test positive for COVID-19 develop a deadly inflammatory sickness that is similar to Kawasaki disease and impacts the heart and multiple other organs and bodily functions. Symptoms consistent with Kawasaki disease include high fever, skin rash, pink eye, swollen hands or feet. Experts continue to study patterns of children coming down with the illness, Multisystem Inflammatory Illness in Children (MIS-C), in areas where COVID-19 outbreaks occur. According to the CDC, there have been 570 confirmed cases of MIS-C in 40 states, including 10 deaths. Additional cases are under investigation.
Decrease Your Child’s Risk
The CDC offers these tips to protect children and decrease their child’s risk by managing the amount of time they spend with others. For young children, the CDC offers this risk assessment:
Lowest risk: No in-person playdates. Children connect virtually (via phone calls and video chats).
Medium risk: Infrequent playdates with the same family or friend who is also practicing everyday preventive measures. Children maintain six feet of distance from each other during the playdate. Playdates should be held outdoors, if possible. Indoor spaces are more risky than outdoor space where it might be harder to keep children apart and there is less ventilation.
Highest Risk: Frequent indoor playdates with multiple friends or families who are not practicing everyday preventive measures. Children do not maintain a distance of six feet from each other.
Experts continue to learn more about the virus and present the clearest possible picture of risks and how we can prevent the spread. Meanwhile, it is critical to protect each other by following local guidelines and taking the steps that we know are effective; maintain social distancing, cover your face, and wash your hands thoroughly and often.
Know When to Go to the ER
Emergency physicians noted a decrease in the number of pediatric patients who came to the emergency departments in the early stages of the pandemic. Some attribute that to the lockdown—there were simply fewer opportunities for accidents or injuries. You can be sure that the emergency department is the safest place for patients of any age to be if there’s a medical emergency.
If you or your child are having an emergency, do not hesitate to seek medical attention. Delaying emergency care can be a life or death decision. Whether COVID-19 related or not, it is critically important to know when to go to the ER.