Pediatric COVID-19 cases ‘exponentially’ increased over summer, AAP says

COVID-19 cases among children are skyrocketing, according to the most recent data published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

Health officials said more than 243,000 pediatric cases were added from Sept. 2 to Sept. 9, the second-highest total number of pediatric cases within a week since the pandemic started in March 2020. 

The prior week recorded 251,781 cases, about a 240% increase since early July when pediatric COVID-19 cases were totaled at 71,726.

"After declining in early summer, child cases have increased exponentially, with nearly 500,000 cases in the past 2 weeks," AAP said in a statement

RELATED: More than 1 in 4 new COVID-19 cases are now in children, report says

Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 5.3 million children had tested positive for the coronavirus as of Sept. 9, according to the AAP.

Less than 2% of COVID-19 hospitalizations in 24 states, plus New York City, are children, according to the AAP. "At this time, it appears that severe illness due to COVID-19 is uncommon among children," the AAP said in a statement. 

But with the highly contagious delta variant spreading across the U.S., children are filling hospital intensive care beds instead of classrooms in record numbers, more even than at the height of the pandemic. In the U.S., anyone 12 and older is eligible for COVID-19 vaccines. The Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine chief said last week he is hopeful children as young as 5 will be eligible to get vaccinated by the end of 2021.

RELATED: Record pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations reported amid delta surge

Pfizer said it had started the application process for a third dose of its vaccine for everyone ages 16 and older. The White House has begun planning for boosters later this month, if both the FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree. Advisers to the FDA will weigh evidence about an extra Pfizer shot Friday. The U.S. already offers an extra dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to people with severely weakened immune systems.

Health experts believe adults who have not gotten their shots are contributing to the surge among grownups and children alike. It has been especially bad in places with lower vaccination rates, such as parts of the South.

The surging virus is spreading anxiety and causing turmoil and infighting among parents, administrators and politicians around the U.S., especially in states like Florida and Texas, where Republican governors have barred schools from making children wear masks.

The on-again, off-again ban imposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to prevent mandating masks for Florida school students amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak is back in force. The 1st District Court of Appeals ruled Friday that a Tallahassee judge should not have lifted an automatic stay two days ago that halted enforcement of the mask mandate ban.

The back-and-forth legal battles stem from a lawsuit filed by parents and other lawyers contending that DeSantis does not have authority to order local school boards to ban mask mandates. DeSantis has argued that the new Parents’ Bill of Rights law reserves solely for parents the authority to determine whether their children should wear a mask to school. School districts with mandatory mask rules allow an opt-out only for medical reasons, not parental discretion.

Meanwhile, a federal judge on Monday ordered the state of Iowa to immediately halt enforcement of a law passed in May that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Some schools have shut down because of COVID-19 outbreaks. A Central Texas school district closed its schools until after the Labor Day holiday after two teachers died of COVID-19. Some students at a Fulton County elementary school in Georgia temporarily switched to remote learning due to positive COVID-19 cases.

In August, at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, the nation’s largest pediatric hospital, the number of children treated for COVID-19 was at an all-time high, said Dr. Jim Versalovic, interim pediatrician-in-chief. In recent weeks, the vast majority have had delta infections, and most patients 12 and up have not had shots, he said.

RELATED: 220 pediatric hospitals plead for help from federal government amid COVID-19 surge

In his most forceful pandemic actions and words, President Joe Biden last week ordered sweeping new federal vaccine requirements for as many as 100 million Americans — private-sector employees as well as health care workers and federal contractors — in an all-out effort to curb the surging COVID-19 delta variant.

Biden’s order for executive branch workers and contractors includes exceptions for workers seeking religious or medical exemptions from vaccination, according to press secretary Jen Psaki. Federal workers who don’t comply will be referred to their agencies’ human resources departments for counseling and discipline, to include potential termination.

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