As school districts across the United States are reopening, some state officials have expressed concerns about the vulnerability of children as the highly contagious Delta variant targets the unvaccinated. This comes as coronavirus cases are surging among children as the school year begins.
Many school districts are operating without mask mandates and the pandemic continues to push sudden quarantines and other disruptions. The American Academy of Pediatrics said Monday that the latest weekly count of new pediatric cases — 243,373 — is about a 240% increase since July.
The Academy together with the Children’s Hospital Association said in a joint report that severe cases among children are not common but needs further studies on the “longer-term impacts of the pandemic on children, including ways the virus may harm the long-term physical health of infected children,” CNN reported.
To date, over 5 million children have tested positive for the virus since the beginning of the pandemic which makes 15.1% of all cases in the U.S.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people aged 12 and older are entitled to receive a COVID-19 vaccine but the vaccination rate among children 12 to 17 is lower than the older groups.
COVID19 infections between children and adolescents in the Americas which includes the U.S. and Canada already reached 1.9 million according to Dr. Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan America Health Organization.
Last year, there were over 1.5 million COVID19 cases recorded among children and adolescents, prompting concerns over some U.S. state officials
In Georgia, about 60% of all COVID-19 cases in the last 60 days occurred in K-12 schools, about a sevenfold rise, state epidemiologist Dr. Cherie Drenzek confirmed on Tuesday during a Department of Public Health board meeting.
“The most significant epidemiologic trend that we have seen, that was much different than previous waves of this pandemic, is the tremendous impact that we have seen on school-aged children,” she said.
According to Drenzek, the impact crosses all surveillance indicators which includes new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
The state of Georgia reaches an average of about 7, 000 cases daily, a tenfold increase from July, data from John Hopkins University confirms.
Georgia’s vaccination rates also near the bottom in the U.S. with only 43% of its residents are fully vaccinated, as per the CDC.
In Ohio, Governor Mike Dewine and the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association are asking school superintendents to mandate masks for their staff and students.
“If we want our schools to stay open, the best way to do that is for those 12 and over to get vaccinated,” he said during a virtual meeting with superintendents. “But because those under 12 are still too young to be vaccinated, we need students who come into school to wear a mask until we get through this.” Only 54% of Ohio’s public school students are requiring masks.
“Reasonable people may disagree about a lot, but we can all agree that we must keep our children in the classroom so they don’t fall behind and so their parents can go to work and not take time off to watch their kids at home,” DeWine said.
According to a statement from the governor’s office, since Aug. 15, there have been 29, 823 children ages 5 to 17 that were confirmed or probable cases of the virus in the state.
Just within the past week, a 44% increase in cases among children school-aged children were reported, compared to a 17% increase in the rest of the state’s population.
In a statement, school districts where masks are optional have observed a 54% week-over-week increase in cases while a 34% increase in districts with mask mandates.
“This is a perfect storm, and it’s impacting kids like it hasn’t before,” said Nick Lashutka, president and CEO of the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association.
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, Alison Beam, the acting health secretary, confirmed that the state has 10 times as many COVID19 cases in school-aged children compared to the same time last year when the state was conducting distant learning.
According to the Department of Health, from September 4 to September 10 in 2020, the state had 547 COVID19 cases in children ages 5 to 18 and in the same time period in 2021, there were 5,371 COVID19 cases within the same age group.
When it comes to the status of a vaccine for children, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that children ages 5 to 11 could be eligible to receive the vaccine when the US Food and Drug Administration approves it this fall.
“If you look at the studies that we at the (National Institutes of Health) are doing in collaboration with the pharmaceutical companies, there will be enough data to apply for an emergency use authorization both by Pfizer, a little bit later by Moderna,” Fauci told CNN news.
“I believe both of them — with Pfizer first — will very likely be able to have a situation where we’ll be able to vaccinate children,” he added. “If the FDA judges the data sufficient enough, we could do it by the fall.”
Fauci also stated that schools that re-opened without mask mandates most likely caused the surge of pediatric cases. “When you get a highly transmissible virus that’s going around the community, you’re going to see a lot more children get infected,” he said.
Two Long Island public school districts in New York sued the governor and state health commissioner after a state-wide school mas mandate that was enforced before the school year started.