As students continue to return to in-person learning this fall, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) released a startling report that said a half-million American kids have tested positive for COVID-19. The U.S. surpassed 513,000 COVID-19 infections in children after states reported 70,630 new child cases from Aug. 20-Sept. 3. With the update in numbers, kids with coronavirus now account for 9.8% of all COVID-19 cases.
AAP President Dr. Sara “Sally” Goza said in a news release the report is a “chilling reminder of why we need to take this virus seriously.” She also called for more efforts to address social and racial inequities caused by the virus.
“While much remains unknown about COVID-19, we do know that the spread among children reflects what is happening in the broader communities,” Goza said. “A disproportionate number of cases are reported in Black and Hispanic children and in places where there is high poverty. We must work harder to address societal inequities that contribute to these disparities.”
The data shows that positive tests rose from less than 100,000 in May to more than 500,000 by the end of summer. States in the south, the west, and the midwest led the surge in infections, according to Dr. Sean O’Leary, vice chair of the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases.
“This rapid rise in positive cases occurred over the summer, and as the weather cools, we know people will spend more time indoors,” O’Leary said. “The goal is to get children back into schools for in-person learning, but in many communities, this is not possible as the virus spreads unchecked.”
Although this new report shows that COVID-19 cases have increased by 16% in children in the past two weeks, some schools that opened digitally in August plan to resume in-person learning this month. The nation’s largest school district, located in New York City, plans to continue in-person education on Sept. 21.
The AAP and CHA admit the data collected for this report was not complete. The organizations said the format, content, and metrics of reported COVID-19 data “differed substantially” by state, including a variation of the definition of “child.” In August, Alabama and Hawaii changed the child case’s definition, lowering the oldest age from 24 and 19, respectively, to 17.
The data also only accounted for 49 states—the study omitted Texas from the analysis.
The death rate for kids remains incredibly low, though. Children were 0%-0.3% of all COVID-19 deaths, and 18 states reported zero child deaths. Only 42 states and New York City reported mortality rates.
Although children with coronavirus are less likely to experience a severe reaction, health experts are concerned children could unknowingly infect more at-risk adults. Experts also remain concerned about the mysterious multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) that appears only to affect children who contract COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define MIS-C as a “condition where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs.” With just 792 reports of the syndrome, it remains a rare occurrence. Most MIS-C patients have been Latino (41%) or Black (34%).
Given the new data, O’Leary said it’s imperative for kids to get the flu vaccine this year.
“We must take this seriously and implement the public health measures we know can help; that includes wearing masks, avoiding large crowds, and maintaining social distance,” O’Leary said. “In addition, it will be really important for everyone to get an influenza vaccine this year. These measures will help protect everyone, including children.”