Cases of COVID-19 are rising in children, but there's reason for optimism, expert says

Cases of COVID-19 in children and teenagers rose by nearly 8% in just over two weeks, a rate that surpassed increases in the general population, Illinois Department of Public Health data showed Wednesday.

It's a trend Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago is grappling with as the highly infectious delta variant proliferates in the U.S.

There are a variety of young patients, said Dr. Larry Kociolek, a pediatrician and medical director of infection prevention and control at Lurie.

“The risk of hospitalization is higher in teenagers and individuals with underlying conditions,” which range from obesity to heart conditions, Kociolek said. “But we see otherwise healthy kids admitted as well,” including infants.

As of Wednesday there were 278,339 cumulative cases of COVID-19 among Illinoisans 19 and younger compared to 258,244 Aug. 30, or 7.8% more. In contrast, there were 1,518,071 total COVID-19 infections in Illinois on Aug. 30 versus 1,582,392 reported Wednesday, a 4.2% rise.

“Fortunately, most of these kids have short stays, they're not that sick and do not require the ICU,” Kociolek said. But about one out of every five to six children with COVID-19 does require some level of ICU care.

“In general, if kids are admitted with COVID-19 they usually have a fairly mild respiratory illness. They may require oxygen for a day or two, but there are some children that progress to life-threatening respiratory failure and sometimes quite quickly.”

The good news is that Lurie has seen a dip in admissions in recent days compared to a peak that occurred two weeks ago, Kociolek said.

“It may seem counterintuitive, but I think kids being in school is actually a benefit to them in term of the risks of COVID-19,” he said. That's because of universal masking and social distancing at schools, he explained.

In addition, the medical community is optimistic that emergency use authorization could come for a vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 in about six weeks, Kociolek said.

So far, COVID-19 vaccinations in eligible children and teens lag behind those of the general population.

About 63.4% of Illinoisans 12 and older are fully vaccinated against the virus. In comparison, 48.9% of the 12-17 demographic are fully inoculated.

The government approved Pfizer/BioNTech's two-dose vaccine for ages 12 through 17 in May, months after vaccines were authorized for older Americans.

Delta emerged at a time when kids 12 and older can get vaccinated, which is fortunate, Kociolek noted. “There's no doubt that vaccine limited the impact delta could have had in children in our community.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics reported Monday that more than 243,000 COVID-19 cases were added in the nation in the past week, “the second highest number of child cases in a week since the pandemic began.”

In Illinois, the weekly count of pediatric COVID-19 infections has grown steadily, although the rate of increase fluctuates.

For example, reported new COVID-19 infections in children 5 to 17 totaled 4,810 the week ending Aug. 14, according to the latest state records.

On the week ending Aug. 21, the total caseload for that age group was 6,865, or 16.7% more. Then, on the week ending Aug. 28, accumulated infections in the cohort were 6,865, or 22.3% higher.

This month, reported COVID-19 cases in kids totaled 7,429 the week ending Sept. 4, or an 8.2% increase.

“Fluctuation is to be expected, and we are watching the testing and case numbers closely as the landscape shifts,” IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said. “Some schools are just now implementing some of their testing programs.

Among Illinoisans of all ages, 4,194 new cases of COVID-19 were reported Wednesday, as well as 44 more deaths from the respiratory disease, the IDPH reported.

On Tuesday, 22,812 more COVID-19 shots were administered across the state. The seven-day average is 21,255.

The federal government has delivered 16,848,375 doses of vaccine to Illinois since distribution began in mid-December, and 14,241,348 shots have been administered.

So far, 6,896,896 people have been fully vaccinated, more than 54% of Illinois' 12.7 million population.

Illinois hospitals were treating 2,229 COVID-19 patients Tuesday night, which is lower than the seven-day average of 2,273.

The state's positivity rate for COVID-19 cases is 4.4% based on a seven-day average.

Since the pandemic began, 24,451 Illinoisans have died.

Labs processed 93,865 virus tests in the last 24 hours.

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