Kids don’t get COVID-19 very often, and very few children get severely sick with the disease. There is ample epidemiological evidence that has lead experts to this conclusion, out of China, Europe, and the United States. But a report coming out of the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that the last two weeks of July may buck this trend. In those weeks, nearly 100,000 kids in the U.S. tested positive for COVID-19. This is in comparison to the more than 338,000 kids who tested positive since the beginning of the pandemic. The increase means 25 percent of all cases turned up during a two-week period — right before schools started to reopen. What’s going on here?
Testing increases aren’t likely the cause: The number of kids tested has increased this summer, but there wasn’t much of a difference in testing kids between late July versus June and early July. The virus may have mutated, but there is no data to suggest so. Besides, most mutations are either neutral or harmful to the virus itself. The most likely explanation is that the rise in infections in children is simply in lockstep with the exponential rise in total case numbers. “We’re still generating 50,000 to 70,000 new cases a day,” Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told CNN. “This is all wholly preventable.” As more and more adults get COVID-19, more and more kids are going to get it too.
The spike in kids’ cases is not equal across the country. The South in particular has reported many cases in children since the pandemic started, and several states in the West aren’t doing so well either. The states with the largest total numbers of kids’ COVID-19 cases are Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee in the South, Arizona and California in the West, and, oddly enough, Illinois in the Midwest.
Even with this spike, children still are less affected by COVID-19 than adults: Kids account for only 8.8 percent of all cases. Furthermore, severe sickness in children is still low: Only 0.6 percent to 8.9 percent of all kids with COVID-19 needed to be hospitalized, according to data from 20 states and New York City. Based on available data, between 0 and 0.3 percent of children who tested positive have died. And 20 states have reported that no children have died of COVID-19 within their borders.
In states with available data, 3.6 percent to 18.4 percent of kids who are tested for COVID-19 get a positive result. Many experts recommend only reopening schools when the overall positivity rate is below 5 percent. The AAP recommended, in a widely publicized and well-argued and evidence letter on June 25, that all schools should aim to get kids back in classrooms wherever possible. The AAP has not yet signaled that they plan to change their school recommendation with these new alarming numbers. Even if they do open, this recent spike doesn’t inspire much hope for keeping them open.