What families should know as pediatric covid cases climb in Pennsylvania

As Covid-19 cases among children continue to rise, a Pittsburgh doctor said that while it’s good to keep precautions in mind, it’s also important to keep kids in school, even if they’re too young to be vaccinated. .

Covid-19 cases have risen again, fueled by the highly contagious delta strain. In Allegheny County, children aged 12 and under accounted for 12% of Covid-19 cases last month, up from 9% in June. In June, 67 children in that age group tested positive for the virus. By August, the number had risen to 773.

From Aug. 16 to Sept. 8, there were 193 cases of Covid-19 in children ages 4 or younger in Allegheny County, according to Department of Health data that tracks coronavirus cases during the school year. Statewide, there were 2,701 cases among that age group.

In children ages 5 to 18, there have been 1,049 cases in Allegheny County and more than 13,500 in the Commonwealth since the start of the academic year.

Amid the rise in pediatric covid-19 cases, Dr. Joseph Aracri, president of the Children’s Institute of Allegheny Health Network, explains what this increase in childhood coronavirus cases means for families and the new school year:

Question: Why are we seeing this increase in pediatric cases now?

Answer: “It’s not so much about the number of children, but as a percentage of the population. More children than adults get it because adults are vaccinated, especially the elderly. Younger children cannot get the vaccine. What we also saw last year was that kids weren’t in school, so they weren’t exposed to covid. They usually got covid from parents who took it home because they didn’t get out of the house. Now they have more access to getting covid than last year. Children are becoming more and more active in society.”

Q: Are any of the covid-19 variants, such as the delta variant, more dangerous for children?

AN: “In general, none of the variants have been shown to have more severe symptoms. They all have pretty much the same symptoms and the same severity. The only thing is that delta is more contagious than other variants. But children generally do very well when they get infected.”

Q: What can families do to protect children from Covid-19, especially those who are too young to be vaccinated?

AN: “The most important thing you can do as a family is vaccinate everyone who can be vaccinated. Make sure all family members your child comes into contact with are vaccinated.”

Q: With masks now mandatory in schools, why is masking important for children?

A: “It is very important to remember that masks alone will not stop the spread of the coronavirus. Masking should be part of the whole package.”

Q: How safe is it to send children, including those too young to be vaccinated, to school as the number of Covid-19 cases rises?

AN: “I think the most important thing for our children in general is personal education. We saw last year that there were significant problems for children with reduced learning and emotional difficulties from not attending school. It’s more important for these kids to be in school than worrying about getting covid while they’re in school.”

Q: Do you think school closures are justified if the number of cases continues to rise?

AN: “You have to look at the viral load, the number of cases in the school, and make the right decision for that school. If you see a major outbreak involving a large number of children in one room, you may want to consider closing that school room for a while. If you see a majority of a school’s population switching classes, consider closing for a short period of time. It has to be looked at on a case-by-case basis and done by that individual school board.”

Q: Should children, especially those who have not been vaccinated, avoid crowds and public institutions outside of school?

AN: “Anything that is done outside – outdoor activities like soccer, cheerleading, soccer – is usually safe in an outdoor environment. I think it’s very important to normalize the lives of these kids as much as possible. When it’s an incredibly busy (indoor) area , you might consider masking yourself and your child, but I would try to minimize the chance of getting covid as much as possible without completely avoiding the events your child wants to go to.”

Q: When can a covid-19 vaccine be approved for children under 12?

AN: “It’s hard to say when the FDA will actually approve it. We heard everything from November to January or February. It is very important that the FDA takes its time and the vaccine is considered safe. The majority of children, not all children, but the majority of children have very mild symptoms, so we want to make sure that the vaccine doesn’t cause more problems than it will be helpful for the children. We know it will be effective, but we want to make sure it’s safe.”

Julia Felton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Julia at 724-226-7724, jfelton@triblive.com or via Twitter.

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