COVID-19 cases in children have risen 30-fold since late June and are now at record highs, with nearly 500,000 new child cases reported in the past two weeks, according to the latest data released by the American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday. Pediatric cases have “increased exponentially,” the AAP said in a statement.
The rise coincides with a dramatic surge in overall COVID-19 transmission driven by the hypertransmissible delta variant. But with more adults vaccinated, children are getting hit harder in this wave than ever before, and they make up a larger and larger share of the cases.
At this point, the US has recorded 5.3 million cumulative cases in children, accounting for 15.5 percent of total cases in the pandemic. That percentage has risen steadily during the current surge, up from 14.2 percent at the end of June.
By late June, child cases had steeply declined and reached a low point, with children making up just about 10 percent of the total cases during the week ending on June 24. Amid the delta surge, that weekly percentage shot up. In the week ending on September 9, children made up 29 percent of cases. For context, children (those under age 18) only make up 22.2 percent of the US population.
With the growing share of cases, raw totals in children are now at their highest levels ever in the pandemic. In the week ending on September 9, the US tallied 243,373 pediatric cases (from 49 states, plus New York City, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam). That weekly tally is second only to the previous week, ending on September 2, in which states reported 251,781 pediatric cases.
Before the delta surge, the highest weekly tally was set in the week ending on January 14, in which there were 211,466 cases in children. From there, cases fell to a low of 8,447 in the week ending on June 24. The current weekly cases are a 30-fold jump from that point.
About half of the country’s pediatric cases reported in the past two weeks have been tallied in Southern states, where many areas are undervaccinated and transmission has been extremely high.
Children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination. However, data continues to show that vaccinating older children and adults around young children can protect them from infection. States with higher vaccination coverage overall have generally seen fewer cases, emergency visits, and hospitalizations involving children during the current surge.
US officials expect that vaccines will become available for children ages 5 to 11 sometime between the end of October and the end of the year. Vaccines for children ages 6 months to 5 years will follow.
One bright spot among the current data is that child hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 remain relatively low. Among the 24 states that report pediatric hospitalizations, pediatric hospitalizations ranged from 1.6 percent to 4 percent of total COVID hospitalizations over the entire pandemic. And according to mortality data from 45 states, children have made up zero percent to 0.27 percent of all COVID-19 deaths during the pandemic. Seven states have reported no deaths in children throughout the pandemic.
“At this time, it appears that severe illness due to COVID-19 is uncommon among children,” the AAP notes. “However, there is an urgent need to collect more data on longer-term impacts of the pandemic on children, including ways the virus may harm the long-term physical health of infected children, as well as its emotional and mental health effects.”