The number of children infected with the coronavirus rose dramatically between April and September, according to new research by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, and by more than 14% in the last two weeks alone – a surge that coincides with schools reopening across the country.
“These rising numbers concern us greatly, as the children’s cases reflect the increasing virus spread in our communities,” Sally Goza, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said in a statement. “While children generally don’t get as sick with the coronavirus as adults, they are not immune and there is much to learn about how easily they can transmit it to others.”
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Drawing on data from state health departments, researchers analyzed trends over five months in reported COVID-19 cases and found that the number of children infected rose from 2.2% of all cumulative reported cases nationwide in April to 10% of all cases in September.
Notably, in the last eight weeks, children represented between 12% and 16% of newly reported cases each week, according to the study. In the two-week span of Sept. 10 to Sept. 24, more than 75,000 new child cases were reported – a 14% increase in child cases over two weeks.
As of Sept. 24, officials reported 624,890 cases of COVID-19 in children, which represents 10.5% of all cases.
The new figures come on the heels of reporting by the New York Times that found top White House officials pressured the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to play down the risk of sending children back to school and pushed public health experts there to use alternate data showing that the pandemic posed little danger to children.
Hospitalizations and serious infections among children are still rare, despite the surge in cases: As of Sept. 10, children represented 1.7% of total hospitalizations and 0.07% of total deaths. Just 0.01% of child cases resulted in death.
The study found substantial variation in case growth by region: In April, a preponderance of cases were in the Northeast. In June, cases surged in the South and West, followed by mid-July increases in the Midwest.
Researchers underscored that the data is limited because states differ in how they report it, and it is unknown how many children have been infected but not tested. In addition, they said, it’s unclear how much of the increase in cases among children is due to increased testing capacity – though CDC data from public and commercial labs shows the share of all tests administered to children, about 5% to 7%, has remained stable since late April.
“We will continue to closely monitor children’s cases, with hopes of seeing the upward trend turn around,” Goza said. “We encourage parents to call their pediatricians and get their children into the office for well visits and vaccinations, especially now that some schools are reopening and flu season has arrived.”