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Health Team

Children make up highest rate of new COVID-19 cases, DHHS says

Posted September 20, 2021 2:03 p.m. EDT
Updated September 21, 2021 3:59 p.m. EDT

— For the first time in the pandemic, children make up the highest number of new coronavirus cases reported in North Carolina, state officials said on Monday. The percentage of children seeking emergency room treatment for coronavirus is higher than in any other age group, officials said.

"Children can spread [it] to other people and can spread to other adults. There are numerous, numerous studies that children are quite efficient spreaders to their households," said Dr. Elizabeth Tilson, state health director and the chief medical officer for the Department of Health and Human Services.

The majority of cases reported since late August and September are in children and young adults, state data shows. Pediatric hospitalizations have spiked among children since August, data shows. The number of children hospitalized still remains low — a little more than 2 children for every 100,000 are in the hospital. But officials worry that number will continue to rise.

Less than 200 cases of a rare disorder associated with coronavirus in children — multisystem inflammatory syndrome — were diagnosed in North Carolina. Two of those cases were reported in the last week of August, state data shows.

The number of children testing positive for the virus is not rising just because they are being tested more, Tilson said. The percentage of positive tests among children is also higher than any other age group.

High schoolers have the highest number of new cases, followed by 10 to 14-year-olds.

"We have had the highest number of K-12 clusters at any time in the pandemic," she said.

On Monday, Pfizer announced that coronavirus vaccine trials showed children ages 5 to 11 develop a "robust" antibody response from the vaccine. The trials focus on a small, two-dose vaccine in children.

Tilson stressed the importance of students wearing masks inside the classroom and said that "having as many of these strategies in place is really important."

The majority of school districts in North Carolina are requiring masks, with the exception of Harnett, Union, Avery and Yancey counties.

As of Monday, there were nearly 200 active COVID-19 clusters related to schools. More students are testing positive for the virus as schools resume in-person learning.

Officials say the Pfizer vaccine could be available for children 5 to 11 years old by Halloween. Coronavirus cases among children account for nearly 29% of all cases reported in the United States.

"If children were having infection and coming back to their households, they're very good at spreading it to those members of the household who may have a higher risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19," Tilson said.

State data shows that 43% of all children ages 12 to 17 and 47% of young adults ages 18 to 24 are fully vaccinated.

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