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Despite an increase in vaccinations, COVID-19 infections are still on the rise in the United States. Certain places such as Michigan are even reporting their highest levels of new cases since early December, according to CNN. But in the states where infections are surging, experts say there's one group in particular that is catching and spreading COVID like never before: children. Read on to see why younger people are now more affected and infected, and for more on why trends are headed in the wrong direction, check out Dr. Fauci Says This Is the Sign That We'll Have Another COVID Surge.
Younger children are more likely to get infected by the U.K. COVID variant.
During an April 4 appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, Michael Osterholm, MD, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, explained that while he felt "pre-pandemic normal" life would eventually come back, a new mutation of COVID-19 is now presenting yet another hurdle in the fight against the virus.
"This B.1.1.7 variant is a brand new ballgame," Osterholm said of the highly contagious strain that was discovered in the U.K. in December and is currently gaining footing throughout the U.S. "In fact, right here in Minnesota, we're now seeing the other aspect of this B.1.1.7 variant that hasn't been talked much about, and that is the fact that it infects kids very readily," adding that 749 schools in the state had reported cases of the strain.
And for more on the new variants, check out This One Vaccine May Protect You Against All Variants, New Study Says.
Kids are now more likely to spread the virus in a way they weren't able to before.
Osterholm explained to Meet the Press host Chuck Todd that the combination of the spread of the new variant and the reopening of many schools with new mitigation measures is presenting a new set of challenges. "Unlike the previous strains of the virus, we didn't see children under eighth grade get infected often, or they were not frequently very ill. They didn't transmit to the rest of the community," Osterholm said, adding that he is a strong proponent of children returning to in-person learning.
However, Osterholm said the outlook was now somewhat different: "B.1.1.7 turns that on its head. These kids now are really major challenges in terms of how they transmit." And for more on how you can keep yourself safe, check out The CDC Says If You See This at a Restaurant, Don't Go Inside.
Schools could spark community spread of COVID in new areas.
Osterholm wasn't alone in expressing concern that COVID-19 was beginning to spread in a new way. While appearing on CBS's Face the Nation on April 4, Scott Gottlieb, MD, former U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner, admitted he also worried that classrooms now present a new challenge. "We need to be cognizant of the fact that schools are a risk factor, children are vulnerable to the infection, and that the schools can become focal points for community spread if we're not careful," he said.
Gottlieb pointed out that Michigan and Massachusetts are both currently seeing surges, with most of the newest reported cases among adolescents and younger school-age children. "Both states recently reopened schools," Gottlieb explained, "and I don't think it's a coincidence."
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Keeping up the pace with vaccinations can help stem another major surge from happening.
Besides advising the public to remain aware of the new threat, Gottlieb still said he believed schools wouldn't need to be shut down again, predicting "a true fourth wave" would likely be avoided thanks to the high rate of vaccinations that could soon reach five million doses per day.
The former FDA head also brought up the results of a recent clinical trial that found the Pfizer vaccine to be 100 percent effective in adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15. Because of this, he believes that eligibility for doses could soon be expanded to include younger people. "I do think we're going to be in a position to vaccinate 12 and above before the fall," he said. And for more on when surges will become a thing of the past, check out This Is When the COVID Pandemic Will Be Completely Over, Experts Say.