COVID-19 cases rise by 90% in children ahead of school openings

New data recently released by states across the nation suggest that children are falling ill to COVID-19 at much higher rates than earlier in the pandemic, even as many schools across the nation prepare to reopen this fall.

A new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association reveals an alarming and grim reality: children around the country are not only increasingly falling ill with the coronavirus, but are beginning to make up a larger proportion of cases in the United States.

From July 9 to August 6, the report found there existed an increase in childhood cases of COVID-19 totaling nearly 180,000. This figure represents a 90% increase in COVID-19 cases in children as compared to four weeks prior. The figure also represents 9% of all cases of COVID-19 in the United States during that period.

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This horrific data comes as states across the country plan to reopen schools to children, teachers, and administrative staff within the next few weeks, after a near-universal closure in March. While many states defend their plans to reopen with claims that children are less susceptible to the coronavirus, data suggest a more complex reality.

Studies recently reported by TIME show that COVID-19 does not cause as severe of symptoms in children as it tends to do in adults. Data reported from different states across the country show a different introspective to this potential reality, with different states reporting between 0.3% and 8.9% of COVID-19 positive children becoming hospitalized, indicating a relatively large existence of severe cases.

While the statistics do seem to indicate an inherent inequality in risk for kids battling COVID-19, it would be misleading not to indicate that different states use different methods to report their data. While many states consider children to be those under ages 18 or 20, many states, including Florida, Utah, and Alabama, have particularly strange definitions of “child.” Florida and Utah, for instance, mark the cutoff at 14 years of age, with Alabama marking it at 24. This makes for skewed data, with Alabama reporting a much larger set of “children” being COVID-19 positive, and with Florida and Utah not considering most high school-age students in this relevant set of data.

Regardless of varying definitions between states, a nationwide composite proves useful in analyzing the increase in childhood COVID-19 cases. According to the data reported by the American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association, there has been a whopping increase in the percentage of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States belonging to children. On April 16, children made up just 2% of the United States’ COVID-19 cases. Today, children make up 9.1%.

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These figures compose just one of many pillars in the nationwide debate over whether or not to have schools return to session over the coming weeks. While most schools ceased normal operations in March, as the United States began feeling the social and economic impacts of the pandemic and its outbreak, many are considering returning to in-person classes very soon, despite the United States just having reported its five millionth case of COVID-19, and the world just recently reporting it’s 20 millionths.

As the battle lines are drawn and combatants meet on the field, parents, students, and teachers are worried for their lives. A harsh and unforgiving pandemic has taken aim at the economic condition, social atmosphere, and public health of the United States while leaving families shattered and without loved ones. The debate that seems to have dominated the American conscience throughout the course of the past few months is whether or not economic conditions should be considered before those of public health.

This debate, which rages on as more and more lives are lost each day, seems to center around children and their perceived susceptibility to the disease. While the answer is not entirely clear yet, by the time it is, decisions on how to send children back to school will have already been made, and the fight for those children’s lives would have either been won or lost. With data seemingly conflicting based on methods of collection, only time will be able to soon answer the question: who will fall in harm’s way?

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