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A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association found that more than 97,000 American kids tested positive for the coronavirus during the last two weeks in July. That’s a 40 percent increase from the previous two-week period, the report said.
According to data collected from 49 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and Guam, there were 338,982 cases of the coronavirus reported in children as of July 30. The actual number of pediatric cases may be even higher: The report noted that it didn’t include complete data from Texas and parts of New York.
Among other findings, children made up 8.8 percent of all confirmed cases as of July 30, and 25 states reported that children made up 10 percent or more of their cases.
It’s important to note that this data was collected before in-person learning started across the country. So, what’s going on here?
Experts say there are likely several factors at play. “Some of it has to do with the summer and people getting out, sometimes inappropriately,” Dr. John Schreiber, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Connecticut Children’s, tells Yahoo Life. “Children are going out and associating with others when they may not have been before.”
Many children were “pulled out of school in March” but now are doing things like Little League games and attending summer camps, Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Life. “They’re interacting more with people now than they were in March and April, and that’s going to lead to more cases,” he says.
There is also “continuing community transmission — and the virus will find the children,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life.
At the same time, doctors are starting to test children more. “We’ve kind of avoided that in the past because children are less severely affected,” Schaffner says. “But we’re learning that children can be infected and they will shed the virus.”
“This is an ominous wake-up call as we open up schools,” Schaffner continues. “It’s likely we’re going to see clusters of transmission in any number of school systems as these children pass the virus around among themselves and also to the people who work in the schools.”
There have been hints that this could happen. One report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July detailed how quickly the virus spread through an overnight camp in Georgia. The camp, which was not named by the CDC, had 597 attendees and started sending campers home after a counselor developed chills. According to test results made available to the CDC from 344 campers and staff members, 260 tested positive for the virus. Fifty-one percent of those 260 camp attendees were children ages 6 to 10, according to the CDC.
A large study of 5,706 South Korean patients and the more than 59,000 people they came into contact with over a two-month period found that, while children younger than 10 spread the virus to others less often than adults do, those between ages 10 and 19 can spread the virus at least as much as adults.
“COVID-19 is beginning to look like the flu, where children are the big disseminators in our communities,” Schaffner says. “In the flu, they shed the virus in much larger amounts for longer periods of time. We don’t know yet if that is the case with COVID-19, but we do know that they can get infected and they can transmit the virus.”
While Adalja says it’s “never been a question” of whether children can get infected, experts are still trying to figure out if they can drive outbreaks. “That’s what the issue is,” he says. “We still don’t have the answer.”
To keep children and their families safe, Schreiber recommends that parents encourage their children to continue to practice physical distancing, use good hand hygiene and “take masks seriously.” He also urges parents to keep their kids away from crowds as much as possible. “As much as you would like to associate in large crowds, parents need to use common sense to protect their children,” he says.
Schaffner expects coronavirus cases to increase as schools resume, in both children and adults. “Here and there, we will see school outbreaks accelerate community outbreaks,” he says. “The big difficulty is that we’ve opened up some of our schools without controlling the virus in our community. That can prolong this first wave.”
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
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