Children aren’t as likely to become severely ill from Covid-19 as adults, and for this reason their ability to contract and transmit infection is often downplayed or unrecognized. But according to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 61,000 children in the United States—a record high—were diagnosed with Covid-19 in the span of one week alone, bringing the total number of pediatric cases confirmed this year to 853,635.
In April, children accounted for only two percent of cases nationwide. Today, according to the Academy report, their share is more than five times as high—hovering around 11 percent. While the reason for the increase is unclear, it doesn’t seem probable that pediatric cases will dip back down in time for the holidays. Against the better judgment of health experts, large family gatherings and vacations are bound to occur, creating more opportunities for transmission across households that might spill over into the new year.
In any case, it can be presumed that these numbers represent only a small fraction of the actual number of children who have active or past Covid-19 infections. Since the majority of children who catch the virus develop either mild symptoms or none at all, chances are many don’t get tested. Instead, they join the droves of so-called “silent shredders” who spread disease unawares and cause as many as 79 percent of infections. Some studies suggest that children spread the virus as well as adults—in which case they drive contagion more than we think, though more evidence is needed to prove this definitively.
Thankfully, the rise in pediatric Covid-19 cases hasn’t been matched by a comparable rise in hospitalizations. Although 121 children have died from complications caused by the disease, children make up less than 3.5 percent of those hospitalized with it. Still, many of us aged 18 and over won’t be so lucky. With daily Covid-19 cases now exceeding 100,000 in the U.S., there is certainly reason enough for us to acknowledge that children aren’t exempt from this pandemic—especially when it comes to the part they may play in exacerbating existing outbreaks.
Neither are children exempt from the potential long-term effects of Covid-19, both physical and mental. The longer the pandemic drags on, the more disruption children will face in their opportunities to learn and grow on many levels—from their social lives and behavior to their emotional intelligence and aptitude in school. Studies conducted across China, Bangladesh, Italy, and Spain have independently reached similar conclusions about depression and anxiety levels in children: that they’re increasing due to Covid-19. How long those trends persist remains to be seen, but like rates of infection, they’re unlikely to subside anytime soon.
Winter is nearly upon us, and with it comes winter break—peak time for sickness in kids, pandemic or no pandemic. Remember that in March, an outbreak in a ski resort in the small Austrian town of Ischgl resulted in possibly the highest rate of infection in the world, with 42 percent of residents testing positive for antibodies and many nonresidents spreading the disease to other parts of the world. While the temptation to loosen up on restrictions, seek out adventure, and reunite with loved ones young and old will be strong, for the sake of our children and ourselves we must hold fast in our isolation. If not, we risk spending not just the upcoming holidays apart, but next year’s, too.