Children initially spared from the worst outcomes of COVID-19 are now being hospitalized in greater numbers in Wisconsin just as they are across the nation. Even those with mild symptoms sometimes have long-term side effects, what’s known as long COVID.
Research to date indicates so-called "long haul" COVID-19 patients make up anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of adults infected with the disease. Estimates for children with ongoing symptoms such as shortness of breath and trouble concentrating range widely, anywhere from 4 to 24 percent.
There’s ongoing research into the syndrome that hasn’t been widely studied as parents prepare to send their kids to school this fall.
"I certainly understand the conundrum it poses to parents," said Dr. John Raymond, president and CEO of the Medical College of Wisconsin.
The delta variant has lead to a drastic increase in the number of cases and hospitalizations in Wisconsin and the United States, and the rising number of children testing positive in last several weeks is raising concerns. During the week of June 20, fifty-nine children age 18 and under tested positive for COVID-19, the lowest it has been since April of last year, according to state Department of Health Services data. During the week of Aug. 1, preliminary DHS data shows 1,103 people age 18 and under tested positive.
Raymond said younger people are getting sicker faster and the symptoms of the new delta variant are more subtle than the original virus or other variants.
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"So, people could be infected and not really know it; they think they may have a flare of allergies or a cold. So continuing vigilance is very important" along with mitigation measures like masking and vaccination for those 12 and older, he said Tuesday during a presentation to the Milwaukee Metro Association of Commerce.
Hospitalizations of children infected with COVID-19 have been on the rise across the United States. In Milwaukee County, children 18 and younger comprise 10 percent of recent hospitalizations due to the disease. Of 102 patients hospitalized in one week, 10 were children with COVID-19.
"Previous variants, prior to delta, were not hospitalizing kids at such an alarming rate, but it's certainly something we are seeing," Greenfield Health Department Director Darren Rausch said during the virtual briefing of Milwaukee officials Tuesday.
In Dane County, public health officials say they are aware of only one child currently hospitalized for COVID-19. Pediatric cases in general remain very low but are slowly increasing, said Public Health Madison and Dane County spokesperson Morgan Finke.
DHS tracks the number of children hospitalized in two age groups, age 0-9 and 10-19. There have been a combined 105,067 cases from newborns to people age 19 since the beginning of the pandemic. Of those cases, 1,190, or about 1 percent, have resulted in hospitalization.