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61,000 Kids Tested Positive for COVID Last Week — What Does That Mean?

The third wave spares no one.

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More than 61,000 kids tested positive for COVID-19 last week, from Oct. 22 to Oct. 29. That’s the highest number of kids diagnosed in one week since the start of the pandemic. These figures are frustrating and scary, but not unexpected. After all, the U.S. is facing another surge of the coronavirus before we’ve fully recovered from the first two. On Wednesday, the country shattered its record for the most new COVID-19 cases in one day with 102,831, according to Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 tracking data. This is the first time the country has surpassed 100,000 new cases in one day.

The pediatric COVID-19 cases, reported by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), can’t be considered apart from the third wave as a whole. “This is a stark reminder of the impact this pandemic is having on everyone – including our children and adolescents,” said Sally Goza, president of the AAP, in a news release.

“This virus is highly contagious, and as we see spikes in many communities, children are more likely to be infected, too,” Goza said. “We can help protect everyone in our communities by keeping our physical distance, wearing masks, and following other recommendations from our doctors and public health experts.”

The 61,447 new pediatric COVID-19 cases reported last week come from 49 state health departments, New York City, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam. Each location has a different definition of what counts as a pediatric case, with some counting diagnoses in everyone up to age 20 and others capping the age as young as 14.

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Although COVID-19 cases in children have reached unprecedented levels, children generally avoid the worst effects of the coronavirus. Only 0.5%-6.7% of all children with COVID-19 were hospitalized that week, according to data from 24 states and New York City. Children accounted for only 1%-3.5% of all COVID-19 hospitalizations. 

The risk of death was even lower for kids. Children accounted for 0%-0.20% deaths, according to data from 42 states and New York City. For each area, 0%-0.14% of children with COVID-19 died.

Kids are more likely to be asymptomatic or have mild symptoms than adults, so the total number of pediatric cases is probably undercounted, according to the AAP. However, the percentage of children with the disease who are hospitalized or die is likely lower than what the data reflects. 

The record-breaking case numbers in kids is unlikely due to schools reopening. Although there isn’t great data about outbreaks in schools, the available evidence suggests that schools aren’t coronavirus hotspots. Instead, when cases go up in everyone, they go up in kids too. “These numbers reflect a disturbing increase in cases throughout most of the United States in all populations, especially among young adults,” Yvonne Maldonado, chair of the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases, said in the news release.

“I’m very concerned about the long-term harms that children may suffer, particularly Black and Hispanic children, who are suffering a higher number of infections,” Goza added. “This includes not only children who test positive for the virus but everyone in these communities who are suffering from disproportionate emotional and mental health harms.”