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Opinion: Children are becoming ill with COVID-19

The American Academy of Pediatrics reported over 180,000 new cases in children during the week ending Aug. 19, Some require intensive care and develop long-term symptoms.

A teacher protests, urging masks in schools.
Katie Isaia, a fifth grade teacher at Settlement Canyon Elementary School in Tooele, attends a Utah Safe Schools Mask-In urging the governor’s leadership in school reopenings at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, July 23, 2020.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

We write as concerned pediatric medical providers who have worked for years to keep the children of this great state of Utah happy, safe and healthy.

We hope to give parents clarity on the current situation for children in our state during this pandemic.

The delta variant of COVID-19 has shown greater ability to infect younger people, including children, than the original strain, and is much more contagious. We have seen an increase in cases among our patients, including hospitalizations of children in several communities throughout Utah.

We are hearing from our colleagues around the country of similar trends in their communities. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported over 180,000 new cases in children during the week ending Aug. 19, which was 22.4% — or nearly 1 in 4 — of that week’s new COVID-19 cases. This is a dramatic increase from 38,000 new cases per week in children one month earlier. The largest increases have been in states with low vaccination rates and the absence of widespread masking in schools.

Throughout the state of Utah, we have had nearly 800 children require hospitalization due to COVID-19, some of whom have required intensive care. About 100 children have developed multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, a complication that affects many internal organs, especially the heart. Throughout the country we have lost about twice the number of children to this virus as the number of children who succumb to the flu each year.

In light of that information, we want to counter the misconception that children do not get COVID-19 or that the virus is not a concern for kids. While they do not usually get it as severely as adults do, they do get it. We have seen it and cared for children who have it and have complications from it. Some of these children did not have any underlying health conditions.

We also want to remind parents that while death in children happens only about 0.01% of cases, there is a wide spectrum of disease and that mortality is not the only bad outcome. We’ve seen adolescents develop “long COVID-19” symptoms with chronic fatigue, shortness of breath and “brain fog.” Chronic COVID-19 symptoms can affect a child’s quality of life. Primary Children’s Hospital has communicated with us that it is starting a clinic in order to serve children in Utah with long COVID19.

Furthermore, infections in children are important because they can give it to their parents, older siblings, relatives and neighbors. We are caring for patients whose worlds have been changed because of the loss of parents or grandparents.

For the above reasons, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Utah State Board of Education have all recommended universal mask-wearing for children at school.

This has become a contentious issue, but there is good science demonstrating that a mask keeps the person who is wearing it from passing the virus on to others and offers the wearer some personal protection. Masks are most effective when more people are wearing them. If we all pull together, we can help keep our children and each other’s children safe.

School is a setting in which the virus can be easily transmitted from family to family if no protective measures are taken.

Unfortunately, the Utah Legislature passed a law back in May forbidding schools to require masks when cases were on the decline, not taking into consideration what might happen if we had another pandemic or an unforeseen variant such as delta. This has placed significant barriers for school districts statewide to put in place science-based protective measures, which sends the false message to families that COVID-19 is not a concern for kids. We encourage families to still send their children to school in masks anyway.

We reiterate the importance of isolation for COVID-19-positive students, and quarantine for those exposed to COVID-19. If parents fail to keep their kids home when necessary, it certainly places other children and their families at risk. We plead with parents to please not send their child to school if they have any cold symptoms. We have seen children with even mild symptoms come back positive for COVID-19, and a mild infection in a child could lead to severe disease or death in someone else.

If they have any cough, fever, shortness of breath or sore throat, please get them tested for COVID-19 as soon as possible and stay home until they are better. Testing is easy and should be free to parents. If children test positive, please keep them home for 10 days to avoid infecting others at school. If your child is exposed to COVID-19, please quarantine them at home according to CDC guidelines, unless they are vaccinated.

As physicians, we have reviewed the studies on the COVID-19 vaccine and are confident in recommending it for children ages 12 and older. As with any vaccine, medicine or other intervention, the risks must be weighed against the balance. The data shows that children are much more likely to get COVID-19 and have complications from it than they are to have bad side effects from the vaccine. We encourage parents to discuss their child’s vaccination with their child’s physician.

Unfortunately, it is inevitable that some individuals will oppose masking. Some also may not isolate when they are ill or even quarantine after being in contact with a positive case. Therefore, vaccination becomes parents’ last and most important defense for keeping them and their families safe, and hastening the end of this pandemic we all wish was over.

Signed by Neal Davis, M.D., and 21 other pediatric medical providers.