As some schools begin in-person classes, data compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics from the summer show that cases, hospitalizations and deaths from the coronavirus have increased at a faster rate in children and teenagers than among the general public.
Source: The American Academy of Pediatrics
The data set, which spans from May 21 to Aug. 20, varies from state to state, possibly obscuring differences in how the virus affects infants, young children and adolescents.
For example, many states group infants and teenagers into the same category. One state even includes people up to age 24. But the rise remains similar across states.
Young children seem to catch and transmit the virus less than adults, and children of all ages tend not to experience severe complications from it. But Dr. Sean O’Leary, vice chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on infectious diseases, said that substantial community spread in many parts of the United States corresponded with more infections among children.
The rise in reported cases comes in part from more widespread testing, but Dr. O’Leary said there was evidence that minors were becoming infected at a higher rate now than earlier in the year because hospitalizations and deaths among children had increased as well.
Although much is still unknown about how the virus affects young people, like adults, Black and Latino children who contract the virus are more likely to be hospitalized.
“Anyone who has been on the front lines of this pandemic in a children’s hospital can tell you we’ve taken care of lots of kids that are very sick,” Dr. O’Leary said. “Yes, it’s less severe in children than adults, but it’s not completely benign.”
Since the beginning of the summer, every state in the country has had an increase in the number of young people who have tested positive for the coronavirus, as a share of all cases. In late May, about 5 percent of the nation’s cases were documented in minors. By Aug. 20, that number had risen to more than 9 percent.
Change in share of reported coronavirus cases in minors since May 28
Source: The American Academy of Pediatrics | Note: Data as of Aug. 20. States use varying age ranges for children. Forty-six states and Washington, D.C., count those up to the age of 17, 18 or 19 in their data. Florida and Utah count only those through age 14, Tennessee and South Carolina count those through age 20, and Alabama counts those up to 24 years old. In New York, only New York City reports the age distribution of cases.
Some lawmakers have cited the lower likelihood of transmission among school-age children as a reason schools should reopen for in-person classes.
President Trump has said he would like to see schools fully reopen and falsely claimed in a video posted by his campaign that children were “virtually immune” to the virus. Facebook and Twitter later removed the video, saying it violated policies about misinformation around the virus. In July, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican, claimed that “schoolchildren actually are not vectors for this.”
Dr. William Raszka Jr., a pediatric infectious disease expert at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont in Burlington, said research consistently showed that adults — not children — were driving the spread of the virus. Outbreaks at summer camps and schools, however, have demonstrated that transmission can, in fact, happen among children.
At a sleepaway summer camp in Georgia where hundreds were infected, 76 percent of campers and staff members whose test results were available to researchers had tested positive. The youngest campers, ages 6 to 10, were more likely to be infected than older campers.
It is clear that the virus can spread among children under certain circumstances, Dr. Raszka said. He worries about opening schools in places where infection rates are high, especially in areas that do not require people to wear masks or other proven mitigation measures to stop the spread of the virus.
Unlike the summer camp where children interacted almost entirely with other children and teenagers, schools holding in-person classes require interactions between students and their adult teachers and caregivers, who may be more vulnerable to severe complications.
“One of the challenges is that you just can’t separate schools from the community,” Dr. Raszka said. “When there’s a really high prevalence rate in the community and you open schools, there’s going to be a lot of transmission in schools.”
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