While the U.S. is seeing a record number of COVID-19 vaccinations, with 4.6 million administered last Saturday alone, the nation is also experiencing a rise in cases. Of concern among health experts is the recent increase among teens and children, particularly in Michigan. Yahoo News Medical Contributor Dr. Kavita Patel explains why the number of infections is going up now, how the coronavirus variants come into play and what to know when it comes to youth activities.
DR ROCHELLE WALENSKY: Across the country we are hearing reports of clusters of cases associated with daycare centers and youth sports. Hospitals are seeing more and more younger adults, those in their 30s and 40s, admitted with severe disease. Data suggest this is all happening as we are seeing increasing prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 variants, with 52 jurisdictions now reporting cases of variants of concern.
DR KAVITA PATEL: So it’s a combination of probably the fact that children before were infected but at a much lower rate, because they were not in school. They were not present during youth sports. We were not doing testing of children in the beginning regularly. So I would caution anybody from trying to compare it to a year ago. It is highly likely that children were asymptomatic. Carriers we certainly know this to be the case for children over the age of 12.
Also possible at younger ages, we have evidence that children under the age of 12 had high loads of the virus in their nose even without symptoms. And then number two, we are seeing stronger variants. So it’s possible that children all along the way have been infected with the variant. We know that the variants, especially B.1.1.7, is more infectious. And it’s more dominant across the US.
So you would imagine that it’s just going to infect everybody at a higher rate, especially those who are unvaccinated. And number three, many adults are getting vaccinated. And because the majority of older adults are being immunized, we are seeing these variants going into bodies that are not immunized. And that’s younger children. And those can manifest with different symptoms.
So this is exactly why I think, even as we are vaccinated and getting more and more people vaccinated, we still have to be cautious and why we’ve been asking people to wear masks, even if they’re fully vaccinated outside of their household. I haven’t seen studies that show children are spreading it more easily. I have seen studies which reinforce that children can spread this to adults. And I do believe that the variants are a driver.
We used to feel like, with the previous strains, that it was really adult-to-child transmission that was responsible for daycares or schools. We are seeing that children-to-children, children-to-adults can happen. It’s been in the context of schools that have not had mitigation strategies and enforced them, like masks and distance, as well as contact sports, youth sports, teams, and people getting together, even if they’re outdoors.
And so that’s child-to-child transmission and, in some cases, child-to-adult. We have enough data to show that when schools keep to at least three feet of distance, making sure children are wearing masks, making sure that we have handwashing stations, that those are settings that are incredibly safe. So in-person learning to me is safe. It’s what happens outside the in-person learning. And that includes camp activities, as well as social and recreational activities like team sports.
Those would be activities that I would flag as higher risk. I would prioritize people putting kids back in school safely in person but minimizing those other high risk activities. And I would also argue, this is a good reminder, children can be tested. We should have testing protocols. If you are looking at attending camps or any of these in-person activities, ask about testing protocols. You can’t test your way out of coronavirus. But you can pick up cases that don’t have symptoms, and that can be very helpful.