Over 121,000 children tested positive for COVID-19 last week, data revealed, marking a 5% increase in cases since the beginning of the month. The new cases, which includes data reported up to Aug. 12, brings the total number of COVID-19 cases involving children in the U.S. to over 4.4 million, representing about 14.4% of the nation’s total, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
For the week ending Aug. 12, children accounted for 18% of new cases, according to the data. However, despite the increasing cases, the AAP notes that severe illness due to COVID-19 remains uncommon in children.
"However, 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," the AAP said in a statement.
The increase, which follows an early summer decline, comes amid rapid spread of the delta variant, which across the south has seen hospitals once again overrun with COVID-19 patients. In the most recent AAP update, which included data from 23 states and New York City, children accounted for about 1.6% to 3.5% of COVID-19 hospitalizations, with about 0.2% to 1.9% of cases resulting in admission. The overall death rate among children due to COVID-19 remains low. The data from 43 states found 0.0% to 0.03% of all pediatric COVID-19 cases resulted in death.
Pediatricians and health experts are urging caution such as vaccinating eligible teachers and students and universal masking as a number of states have begun reopening schools to in-person learning over the last several weeks. Washington state is requiring all teachers and school personnel to be fully vaccinated by an October deadline or face possible firing. Elsewhere, the topic of how to safely return to school remains a hot topic of debate.
In New York for instance, the state has left it up to individual school districts to create their own plans. Several schools have decided to mandate masks, while others have chosen to "recommend but not require" them. In Florida, the state’s board of education voted to sanction two districts who defied Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order banning mask mandates in schools.
In Arkansas, where schools reopened last week and there is a law banning masks, over 800 students and staff had to enter quarantine because of COVID-19 exposure.
"There are many children and others who cannot be vaccinated," said Sara Bode, MD, FAAP, chair-person elect of the AAP Council on School Health Executive Committee. "This is why it’s important to use every tool in our toolkit to safeguard children from COVID-19. Universal masking is one of those tools, and has been proven effective in protecting people against other respiratory diseases, as well. It’s also the most effective strategy to create consistent messages and expectations among students without the added burden of needing to monitor everyone’s vaccination status."