The cumulative rate of coronavirus infections among kids has risen from 2.2% in April to 10% by mid-September, a new report has found.
Increased testing is an unlikely cause, since testing rates among children have remained stable since the pandemic's outbreak.
Kids still are less likely to become seriously ill from COVID-19 than adults, and younger kids in particular seem less likely to spread it.
But the dramatic increase in pediatric cases underscores the importance of schools and communities implementing multiple strategies to keep students, staffers, and community members safe.
In April, children represented just 2.2% of coronavirus cases in the US. By mid-September, that proportion had risen "dramatically" to reach 10%, according to data released Tuesday by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association.
It's unlikely the rise is due to increased testing since data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows children have consistently made up 5% to 7% of all tests administered since April, the organizations report.
While 10% is still lower than the percentage of children in the population (about 20%), and children with COVID-19 tend to fare better than adults, the AAP's president, Dr. Sally Goza, said in a press release that "the rising numbers concern us greatly, as the children's cases reflect the increasing virus spread in our communities."
The study found increases in both the cumulative rate and week-by-week rates of kids infected
For the study, which is to be published in the December issue of Pediatrics but was prepublished online Tuesday, researchers looked at five months of reported COVID-19 cases using data from US public-health department websites.
In addition to finding that children's share of COVID-19 cases had grown to 10% from 2.2%, they found the percentage had been rising on a week-to-week basis as well.
For instance, less than 3% of cases reported the week that ended April 23 were pediatric, but in the eight weeks prior to September 10, that percentage ranged from 12% to 15.9% a week.
The location of diagnoses has shifted over time, too, with most cases in April being in the Northeast before cases spiked in the South, the West, and, most recently, the Midwest.
Children are still unlikely to get seriously ill or die from COVID-19, representing up to 3.7% of all reported hospitalizations and up to 0.26% of total deaths as of September 24. They can carry and spread the virus, though exactly how readily remains to be seen.
The study had limitations because states differ in how they report the data, and it doesn't account for the unknown number of children who've had the virus but were never tested.
"We must keep our children — and each other — healthy by following the recommended safety measures like washing hands, wearing cloth face coverings, and staying 6 feet apart from others," Goza said.
Teens seem to be more susceptible than younger kids
Another report, released Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found the incidence of coronavirus among 12- to 17-year-olds was about double that of 5- to 11-year-olds. It also found kids of any age with underlying conditions were most at risk for serious outcomes.
Kids under 10 also don't seem to spread the virus as easily as older kids and adults, but the CDC says anyone under 18 most likely plays a role in transmission, even if they don't have symptoms.
"It is important for schools and communities to monitor multiple indicators of COVID-19 among school-aged children and layer prevention strategies to reduce COVID-19 disease risk for students, teachers, school staff, and families," the report says.
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