LOS ANGELES - A new report shows more than one in four coronavirus cases are among children — the highest ratio since the pandemic began, raising more questions about how best to keep kids safe as the highly infectious delta variant continues to surge.
According to the report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children typically represent around 15% of total cumulated cases since the pandemic began.
But for the week ending Sept. 2, this number skyrocketed to 26.8% of reported weekly COVID-19 cases among children.
"As of September 2, more than 5 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic," the AAP wrote in its latest report. "About 252,000 cases were added the past week, the largest number of child cases in a week since the pandemic began. After declining in early summer, child cases have increased exponentially, with over 750,000 cases added between August 5 and September 2."
In fact, over the two-week period from Aug. 19 to Sept. 2, there was a 10% increase in the cumulated number of child COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
This news comes as the delta variant continues to affect many people — mainly among the unvaccinated — including children under 12 who are too young to be vaccinated.
The 37-page report noted that severe illness due to COVID-19 remains uncommon among children, but said there is an urgent need to collect more data on longer-term impacts of the pandemic on children, including ways the virus may harm the long-term physical health of infected children, as well as its emotional and mental health effects.
Even still, record numbers of children are being hospitalized with COVID-19, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Last month, children's hospitals across the country confirmed increasing numbers of pediatric inpatient volumes, including Nashville-based Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, Children’s Hospital Colorado and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Texas Children's Hospital also reported an uptick in COVID-19 cases among younger residents, with the delta variant behind over 80% of new cases since July 1.
"Well over 80% of our new cases since July 1 in children and adolescents have been due to the delta variant. So we know it’s a highly contagious variant. And so we do expect to continue to see this upward trend in the number of cases during the coming days and weeks," Dr. Jim Versalovic, Texas Children’s Hospital pathologist-in-chief and interim pediatrician-in-chief, told the Texas Standard on Aug. 5.
The report shows the largest spike in pediatric COVID-19 cases is in the Southern region of the United States, and the states that have seen the highest increases in cases within the last two weeks include Florida, Georgia and Hawaii.
Recently, the 21,000-student Bibb County district in Georgia announced a long pause of in-person instruction, saying students would not return to buildings after Labor Day and would remain remote until Sept. 20.
"We are going to take the next two weeks to pause in-person learning and hopefully ensure that when students return, our schools will still be safe," Superintendent Curtis Jones said in a statement. Bibb County is among the Georgia districts that have been requiring masks and other precautions, but Jones said the virus is spreading rapidly outside of schools in the Macon area.
Those at Cook Children’s hospital in Texas are also seeing an alarming number of children, as the number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 in the North Texas region surpassed 100 for the first time during the pandemic.
"We need some compassion from the community, we need people to understand that this is an illness that is absolutely affecting our children and we’re hitting a crisis mode when our children’s hospital is having trouble seeing all of the patients presenting to us and we can’t do it without your help," Medical Director of Urgent Care Services for Cook Children’s Dr. Kara Starnes said.
Cook Children’s reported seeing a record 600 patients in its ER Monday.
In addition, 1,000 schools across 31 states have already closed due to COVID-19, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week.
"Children can become very ill from COVID, and especially those with underlying health problems," said Dr. Michael Grosso, the chief medical officer and chair of pediatrics at Northwell Health’s Huntington Hospital. "In addition to primary COVID infection, some children will go on to get MIS-C, a complicated illness that happens a few weeks down the road, which affects the heart, GI tract, and other systems."
More than 220 children’s hospitals are asking the Biden administration for help as they experience a devastating delta variant-driven surge of child patients with COVID-19.
In a letter distributed by the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA), pediatric hospitals cited "high demand and staffing challenges."
"With pediatric volumes at or near capacity and the upcoming school season expected to increase demand, there may not be sufficient bed capacity or expert staff to care for children and families in need," the letter reads.
Studies on the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness in younger children are still underway.
Moderna said it expects to have enough data to apply for FDA authorization to vaccinate younger children by late this year or early 2022, and Pfizer has said it expects to apply in September for children ages 5 through 11.