UNION COUNTY — Students will soon feel those first day of school jitters, but parents may feel nervous, too, due to the outbreak of the Delta variant of COVID-19.
The Delta variant, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), is “potentially more transmissible than other variants” which applies to both adults and children. It surfaced in India in late 2020 and has been found in 60 countries including the United States.
Dr. Amina Ahmed is a pediatric infectious disease expert and epidemiologist at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte.
She said while there is no increase in the number of hospitalizations, there is an increase in the number of tests that return positive. She reports that of the children who are tested for COVID-19, the number of positive tests is climbing.
“Nationally, there is a slight increase and continues to be a trend of increased hospitalizations for the 12 to 17 year old age group,” Ahmend.
Those who are most at risk are unvaccinated, per an article published by Yale Medicine. A study completed by researchers at the Imperial College London in the United Kingdom shows that children and adults under 50 were 2.5 times more likely to contract the Delta virus.
For students attending in-person, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends once vaccines against COVID-19 become available for children and teens, parents should make an appointment to have their child or children vaccinated. Too, they recommend everyone and children over the age of two wear face masks regardless of vaccine status.
“Because children are the ones that are unvaccinated — when they do return to school — we need to do everything that we can to mitigate transmission there,” Ahmed said. “We’re still very, very lucky in pediatrics that most children do well overall clinically. They don’t have severe disease, but we do know that severe disease can happen…Because that’s the population that’s unvaccinated they are still going to be vulnerable.”
She explained that when rules are followed like wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands that mitigation of diseases remains high.
“We know that if teachers are wearing masks and kids are wearing masks and the number of kids in the classroom are held to a standard sizes and we do separate or isolate a little bit at lunch when the masks come off then we can actually prevent transmission in schools,” Ahmed explained.
Sonja O’Leary, MD, FAAP, chair of the AAP Council on School Health said, “we need to prioritize getting children back into schools alongside their friends and their teachers — and we all play a role in making sure it happens safely. The pandemic has taken a heartbreaking toll on children, and it’s not just their education that has suffered but their mental, emotional and physical health. Combining layers of protection that include vaccinations, masking and clean hands hygiene will make in-person learning safe and possible for everyone.”
The Union County Board of Education unanimously voted to make wearing a face mask optional at their last regular meeting on July 13.
Ahmed noted that at the beginning of the pandemic, children accounted for one% of positive COVID-19 tests. Halfway through the pandemic, it was revised to 11%. Now, they know children account for about 25% of positive tests.
“Because adults are vaccinated, 20 to 25% of all the cases in the U.S. if you look at it in the last two to three weeks are in children. So that in of itself tells us it’s not like it’s dissapaiting in children because of vaccination in adults. We’re actually seeing not more cases, but relatively more cases in children,” Ahmed said.
She added that it was once thought that children did not transmit COVID-19 to adults; however, that has been disproven by household studies and the older the child the more likely the transmission is going to happen.
Continuing, she added that in trials there have not been severe reactions to COVID-19 vaccines — certainly not myocarditis.
“I am hopeful that parents will realize that this is a great mitigation opportunity for their child as they return back to school in the fall. Even though there is hesitancy or there maybe questions, it’s great to have dialogue with your primary care provider. I think they can probably explain a lot about the vaccine and maybe explain any concerns you have as well and take that leap of faith to take that vaccine,” Ahmed said.