And the school year just started.
“What we’re seeing now is extremely concerning,” said Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez, associate professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
“This virus is really going for the people who are not vaccinated. And among those people are children who don’t qualify for the vaccine and children and teens who qualify but are choosing not to get it.”
— A record-high 2,396 children were hospitalized with Covid-19 as of Tuesday, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Doctors say it’s critical to protect children against the Delta variant — not just for the sake of their health, but to preserve in-person learning and help prevent more aggressive variants from setting the entire country back.
252,000 new pediatric cases in one week
“About 252,000 cases were added the past week, the largest number of child cases in a week since the pandemic began.”
And more pediatric cases has led to more kids hospitalized with Covid-19, said Dr. Jon McCullers, pediatrician-in-chief at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis.
“We have seen a significant surge in cases roughly for the last four weeks, roughly corresponding to the time when school got in,” McCullers said Wednesday.
“Interestingly, we’re seeing about three times the number of hospitalizations that we saw during our during our peak during the winter.”
It’s not just kids with preexisting conditions getting hospitalized
And the Delta variant is further annihilating the myth that healthy kids can’t get hit hard.
Previously, “the majority of kids that I’ve seen get really sick (with Covid-19) have been kids with other illnesses or comorbid conditions,” said Dr. Susannah Hills, a pediatric airway surgeon at Columbia University Medical Center.
“But now, the difference with this Delta variant is that we’re seeing kids who may not necessarily have comorbid conditions also end up in the hospital.”
More children are getting MIS-C
In some cases, children who start with mild or no symptoms from Covid-19 end up hospitalized weeks or months later with a condition called MIS-C — multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children.
It happens when “the virus induces your body to make an immune response against your own blood vessels” — which can cause inflammation of the blood vessels, said pediatrician Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia.
Many of the children with MIS-C don’t start off very sick with Covid-19.
“Usually children are picked up incidentally as having (coronavirus). Someone in the family was infected, a friend was infected, so they got a PCR test. And they’re found to be positive. … Then they’re fine,” Offit said.
“Then a month goes by, and they develop a high fever. And evidence of lung, liver, kidney or heart damage. That’s when they come to our hospital.”
The CDC said 99% of MIS-C patients had tested positive for coronavirus, and the other 1% had contact with someone with Covid-19.
The median age of patients with MIS-C was 9 years old.
“CDC is working to learn more about why some children and adolescents develop MIS-C after having COVID-19 or contact with someone with COVID-19, while others do not,” the CDC says.
“Based on what we know now about MIS-C, the best way you can protect your child is by taking everyday actions to prevent your child and the entire household from getting the virus that causes COVID-19.”
The best steps parents can take include getting vaccinated and vaccinating children ages 12 and up, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.
And even if a parent is fully vaccinated, there’s a small chance they could catch an asymptomatic breakthrough infection and unknowingly pass the virus to their children.
That’s why it’s a good idea for all parents of young children to wear masks in public indoor settings, Walensky said.
For kids too young to be vaccinated, it’s important “to surround them with vaccinated people,” she said.
Long Covid can leave lasting impacts on kids
All pediatric patients who tested positive should have at least one follow-up exam with a pediatrician, the AAP said.
Children who had moderate or severe Covid-19 may be at greater risk for subsequent heart disease, the pediatrician group said.
Protecting kids from Covid-19 is critical to keep them in schools
“Our children deserve to have full-time, in person, safe learning with prevention measures in place. And that includes masking for everyone in schools,” Walensky said.
Some students are returning to schools for the first time in a year. But long-awaited classroom learning can be quickly derailed by an infection or outbreak.
And it doesn’t take much for Covid-19 to shut down a school again. Even one case can have a ripple effect on students, faculty and staff.
“We need adults to run schools, and if my adults are sick or needing to quarantine, I don’t have adults present to provide the education,” said Carlee Simon, superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools in Florida.
“When we have families that don’t want to have masks on their child, what they’re doing is not only (increasing the) chance they will have to be quarantined,” Simon said.
If a student gets infected, “they will also have other students who did have masks on who would also need to be quarantined.”
“Everybody wants to move forward. Nobody wants to have masks forever,” Simon said. But “we would like to be able to be safe and have instructional time with our students.”
In addition to masks in schools, the CDC recommends layering other strategies such as improved ventilation, physical distancing and testing on a screening basis.
Children can accidentally help spur new variants
Protecting children from getting Covid-19 can help everyone in the long run, doctors say.
“That’s, of course, the concern,” Walensky said.
“If we are going to continue to allow this virus to spread, we’re going to continue to allow these variants to be created,” he said.
“We’re not going to be able to stop this pandemic until we have a significant percentage of the population vaccinated.”
Covid-19 deaths in children shouldn’t be ignored, CDC chief says
While children are far less likely to die from Covid-19 than adults, the deaths are still significant, Walensky said.
One reason Covid-19 is deadlier for children than other infectious diseases is because many children are vaccinated against other diseases, said Dr. James Campbell, professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
“Nobody’s dying of polio, nobody’s dying of measles in the United States. Nobody’s dying of diphtheria,” Campbell said.
Rebecca Calloway’s 7-year-old daughter, Georgia, is one of thousands of young children testing various doses of Covid-19 vaccines to make sure they’re safe and effective before they get authorized.
While childhood deaths from Covid-19 and Type 1 diabetes are rare, Calloway said, “You don’t want to be that statistic.”
CNN’s Deidre McPhillips and Jen Christensen contributed to this report.