New data from the American Academy of Pediatrics caught many people by surprise: Children now make up more than a quarter of the weekly COVID-19 cases in the United States.

Dr. Eugene Daugherty
Dr. Eugene Daugherty

While vaccines have helped to protect our older, most vulnerable community members, they have yet to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration for children under 12 years old.

And so, the unsettling statistic has raised a whole new set of concerns for parents as children return to the classroom this fall.

We recently asked Dr. Eugene Daugherty, the medical director of Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital, to provide an update on what parents should know to help keep their kids safe.

What is contributing to the increase in pediatric COVID-19 cases?

What we’re seeing, especially in those patients who are under 12, is an increase in cases partially because of the delta variant, which is more contagious, and the fact that they’re obviously not vaccinated yet.

Are you seeing more hospitalized pediatric patients?

Yes. Due to the uptick in positive cases, we are seeing an increase in emergency room visits and a lot more admissions into the hospital. Unfortunately, we expect those numbers to continue to increase over the next few weeks, which is putting a strain on pediatric hospitals across the state. That said, it’s important to make clear: While more than 25% of new COVID patients are children, the vast majority do not require hospitalization.

While COVID-19 is the driving factor, other infections that were somewhat limited last year because of mask wearing, social distancing and hand hygiene are now leading to higher volumes of co-infection.

The respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is one of those other infections that we are seeing a lot of right now. RSV typically starts out like a cold that involves runny nose and a cough that eventually goes away. But nearly 58,000 children have worsened symptoms and end up hospitalized each year. Parents should call their pediatrician if the infection starts to cause wheezing, difficulty breathing and other forms of respiratory distress.

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) is another condition that is believed to be linked to COVID-19 infections in children. MIS-C is a condition where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs. MIS-C is rare, but severe cases have been reported two to four weeks after the onset of COVID-19 in children and adolescents.

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What should you do if you think your child has COVID-19?

If you think that your child has been exposed to COVID-19, please don’t go to the emergency room. The best thing to do is to contact your child’s pediatrician first, and they can advise you on next steps. If a COVID-19 test is recommended, that can be facilitated at the clinic, usually from the convenience of your car.

Dr. Catherine Ohmstede
Dr. Catherine Ohmstede

In most cases, COVID-19 symptoms are mild, and patients can recover at home – this is especially true in children. But for severe cases, your doctor may recommend additional treatment at the hospital.

Dr. Catherine Ohmstede of Novant Health Dilworth Pediatrics recently spoke to this topic: “The important thing for children to know is that serious outcomes are very rare and most children do fine with COVID. They might feel yucky for a few days, but almost all of them recovery completely.”

Ohmstede added that it’s also another reason why parents should lead by example and get vaccinated.

What advice do you have now that kids are back in school?

After a year of virtual learning, I think we’re all excited about kids being able to safely return to school.

With that said, I know there is a lot a lot of misinformation circulating right now that is unfortunately only leading to more confusion within our communities. Instead of turning to social media, I would encourage people to gather information from trusted sources, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While we’re all eager for COVID-19 vaccines to be approved for children under 12 years old, we also know what works at decreasing the risk of infection.

Outside of the new safety measures that many schools have added, like air purifying systems, I would still encourage students to wear a mask, social distance and practice good hand hygiene. And to spend as much time outdoors as possible.

When will vaccines be available for children under 12, and where will they be available?

The Pfizer vaccine is already authorized for children 12 to 15, and health experts predict that the FDA will approve the vaccine for emergency use in children 5 to 11 by the end of October. Clinical trials are currently underway for children 2 and older.

The good news is that vaccines are now widely available. So, once they are approved for children under 12, parents should be able to schedule their shots right away. In the meantime, don’t forget to also schedule your child’s flu shot. (You can get your COVID-19 vaccine and your flu shot at the same time, the CDC says.) Talk to your doctor about timing, but we typically recommend that everyone should receive their annual flu shot sometime in October.

  • Nearly 100 Novant Health clinics are administering vaccines to their patients. Established patients can call their primary care or pediatrician’s clinic to see if it is offering the vaccine.
  • Novant Health still has mass vaccination clinics in Winston-Salem, Charlotte and Salisbury. For more information or to schedule an appointment, visit GetVaccinated.org. Walk-ins are also accepted.
  • Novant Health is offering third doses for immunocompromised patients in both physician clinics and mass vaccination sites.

Those seeking a COVID-19 test can visit NovantHealth.org/coronavirus for a list of COVID-19 testing locations. Please don’t go to the emergency room for a test.