AAP: Child COVID-19 cases hit highest level since pandemic’s start

The American Academy of Pediatrics said child COVID-19 cases have hit its highest level since the beginning of the pandemic. 

The academy reported that for the week ending Dec. 30, more than 325,000 child COVID-19 cases were reported. The number is a 64% increase over the 199,000 added cases reported the week ending Dec. 23 and an almost doubling of case counts from the two weeks prior.

The academy also said nearly 7.9 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, representing over 1 in 10 U.S. children. Furthermore, for the 21st week in a row, child COVID-19 cases are above 100,000, according to the academy.

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According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 206 million Americans over the age of 5 are fully vaccinated, representing 66.2% of the total demographic. Two months after vaccinations were approved for 5- to 11-year-olds, about 14% are fully protected, CDC data shows. The rate is higher for 12- to 17-year-olds, at about 53%.

The omicron-fueled surge that is sending COVID-19 cases rocketing in the U.S. is putting children in the hospital in record numbers, and experts lament that most of the youngsters are not vaccinated. 

During the week of Dec. 22-28, an average of 378 children 17 and under were admitted per day to hospitals with the coronavirus, a 66% increase from the week before, the CDC reported. The previous high over the course of the pandemic was in early September, when child hospitalizations averaged 342 per day, the CDC said.

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In California, 80 COVID-19-infected children were admitted to the hospital during the week of Dec. 20-26, compared with 50 in the last week of November, health officials said.

Seattle Children’s also reported a bump in the number of children admitted over the past week. And while they are less seriously ill than those hospitalized over the summer, Dr. John McGuire cautioned that it is early in the omicron wave, and the full effects will become apparent over the next several weeks.

New York health authorities have also sounded the alarm.

The number of children admitted to the hospital per week in New York City with COVID-19 went from 22 to 109 between Dec. 5 and Dec. 24. Across all of New York state, it went from 70 to 184. Overall, almost 5,000 people in New York were in the hospital with COVID-19.

On a more hopeful note, children continue to represent a small percentage of those being hospitalized with COVID-19: An average of nearly 10,200 people of all ages were admitted per day during the same week in December. And many doctors say the youngsters seem less sick than those who came in during the delta surge over the summer.

"At this time, it appears that severe illness due to COVID-19 is uncommon among children," the academy said on its website. "However, there is an urgent need to collect more data to assess the severity of illness related to new variants as well as the 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."

COVID-19 deaths have proved rare among children over the course of the pandemic. As of last week, 721 in the U.S. had died of the disease, according to data reported to the AAP. The overall U.S. death toll is more than 800,000.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.