More than 1 million kids have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Why isn't it getting more attention?

Korin Miller
·7 min read

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) made a disturbing announcement this week: More than 1 million children in the United States have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

The AAP stated in a press release that, as of Nov. 12, 1,039,464 children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Pediatric cases are also skyrocketing: In the one-week period ending on Thursday, Nov. 12, there were 111,946 new cases in children, “which is substantially larger than any previous week in the pandemic,” the AAP said. The AAP also noted that the organization thinks the actual case counts are underreported because children often have mild cases of the virus and may not be tested as often as adults.

The AAP says over 1 million children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with COVID-19. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP)
The AAP says over 1 million children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with COVID-19. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP)

“As a pediatrician who has practiced medicine for over three decades, I find this number staggering and tragic. We haven’t seen a virus flash through our communities in this way since before we had vaccines for measles and polio,” Dr. Sally Goza, president of the AAP, said in a statement. “And while we wait for a vaccine to be tested and licensed to protect children from the virus that causes COVID-19, we must do more now to protect everyone in our communities. This is even more important as we approach winter, when people will naturally spend more time indoors, where it is easier for the virus to be transmitted.”

The AAP is now calling on officials to “immediately” enact a new national strategy to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including mask-wearing mandates and physical distancing.

The AAP pointed out that severe illness due to COVID-19 is “rare” in children but expressed concern about potential long-term health effects in children. The organization also noted that the pandemic is taking a toll on children in other ways, including:

  • Family stress and mental health: The AAP cites one of its own surveys that found 27 percent of parents reported worsening mental health for themselves, and 14 percent reported worsening behavioral health for their children. They also cited data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found visits by children and teens to the ER for mental health problems increased more than 24 percent during the pandemic.

  • Disruptions to education: This has affected academic performance, as well as family stability and equity from lost wages.

  • Reduced access to health care: Compared with the same time period in 2019, there were 22 percent fewer immunizations for children 2 and younger against other infectious diseases like measles and whooping cough and 44 percent fewer child-screening services.

  • Increased risk of child abuse: Children who were already vulnerable to abuse and neglect are at an increased risk of being harmed, the AAP says.

“We know from research on the impact of natural disasters on the mental health of children that prolonged exposure to this kind of toxic stress is damaging,” Goza said. “Most natural disasters have an end, but this pandemic has gone on for over eight months and is likely to continue to disrupt our lives for many more. We’re very concerned about how this will impact all children, including toddlers who are missing key educational opportunities, as well as adolescents who may be at higher risk for anxiety and depression.”

“Many people are focused on other areas of the pandemic.”

As a whole, children aren’t getting a lot of attention in the pandemic, Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Life. “This data highlights the fact that the pandemic is not controlled, and that it impacts everyone — including children,” he says. “But many people are focused on other aspects of the pandemic.”

Dr. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life that the data show “big numbers” in pediatric cases. “At first, it does seem a little alarming or frightening,” he says.

Why hasn’t there been more attention paid to pediatric cases?

Experts say that childhood cases of COVID-19 haven’t gotten as much attention because, as a whole, they haven’t been as severe as those of adults. “Part of the reason why we haven’t been as concerned is that, for the most part, children have done OK with the virus,” Ganjian says. “Of course, there are extremes and some children do become very ill, but those are rare.”

There are some children who develop MIS-C, a severe complication that has been linked to COVID-19, and some have even died of the virus. But “much more often there’s indirect damage going on,” Adalja says. “There is a heavy toll on children, and it’s not something people are talking about as much as they are other parts of the pandemic,” he says.

American society is also heavily focused on adults, not children, psychologist John Mayer, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, tells Yahoo Life. “The amount of resources we place in education, the high childhood and childbirth mortality for a developed country, the huge amounts of child abuse, both sexual and physical, the orphaned children … need I go on with the low value we place on children?” he says.

Experts say that schools and childcare should remain open.

While many children have been diagnosed with COVID-19, there hasn’t been a large number of reports of outbreaks in schools or childcare facilities, Adalja says. Early data from New York City schools released in October, for example, suggested that there were only a smattering of cases in schools. (That number has since grown, according to data from New York state, but still remains relatively small compared with the number of children in schools.)

“What we’re seeing from the data is that children are not getting infected in school,” Adalja says.

Doctors are torn about whether youth sports should continue.

“Youth activities and sports are good for emotional and psychological health,” Ganjian says. “But there are some sports that are not as risky as others.” He cites outdoor sports as being preferred, compared with activities like wrestling “where they’re on top of each other, breathing heavily.”

“We want to keep lower-risk sports open instead of doing a flat-out ban,” Ganjian says.

But Adalja says that priorities are important. “It is paradoxical when a school says that they can’t have children learning in classes, but football practice is continuing,” he says. “That’s been happening around the country, and it doesn’t make sense.”

Youth sports should also be viewed on a “case-by-case basis,” Adalja says. “I haven’t seen any major data that outbreaks are being caused by 6-year-olds playing soccer, but 16-year-olds playing football and activities around that are having cases,” he says.

What parents can do to keep their children safe

Early data is promising in trials for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, but most children will likely be lower on the priority list for vaccination because they’re not considered low-risk, Adalja says. “Pediatric vaccinations are going to be a secondary priority because we have to get the vaccine to the people the virus impacts the most,” Adalja says.

That’s why Ganjian urges parents to continue to be diligent in working with their children to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Continue to promote good hygiene, hand sanitizing and wearing a mask in public as much as possible, especially when your children are out with friends,” Ganjian says. And if you’re particularly concerned about your child’s risk of complications from COVID-19, he recommends talking to a pediatrician for personalized guidance.

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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