People are talking about kids and COVID-19. And with good reason. COVID is spreading quickly again, thanks to the delta variant. And it’s coming at a terrible time: back to school.

Dr. Catherine Ohmstede of Novant Health Dilworth Pediatrics told reporters at a recent news conference that there has been “a dramatic uptick in the number of COVID cases in children over the past week.”

Here’s what parents need to know:

Spikes in children follow the adult numbers

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Dr. Catherine Ohmstede

“With the delta variant, infections in children lag behind adults by two to four weeks,” Ohmstede said. “The uptick in infections we started seeing in adults in the middle of July is just starting to appear in (kids). And with more opening up, less mask wearing and less social distancing, we are seeing more infections across the adult community. And that's starting to trickle down to children.”

Delta symptoms are different

The delta variant may appear to be nothing at first. It doesn’t necessarily come with the same symptoms as the original COVID strain. “The delta variant looks like a cold,” Ohmstede said. “We don't see as many cases that have the telltale loss of taste and smell that we associate with alpha COVID. What we're seeing … in children is coughing, sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, maybe an upset stomach or headache, some fatigue, possibly fever.”

If your child has any of those symptoms, call your pediatrician and ask about getting tested.

Doctors don’t know yet if the delta variant is more severe in children. “Most of the severe illness we see from COVID-19 is usually an inflammatory illness that lags about a month after the acute illness,” she explained. “So, a child may be sick for a week with mild symptoms, and then a month later become very, very ill and have to be hospitalized.”

Here’s what doctors do know, Ohmstede said:

  • The delta variant is spreading to and among children more than the original (alpha) variant.
  • The delta variant is more contagious. It’s twice as transmissible as the alpha variant. So, more children are becoming infected once they're exposed.
  • The recent uptick is impacting children of all ages. “This week alone, I've seen babies, toddlers, young children and teenagers be diagnosed with COVID,” Ohmstede said. “It’s hard to quantify exactly how many cases because this increase has happened so dramatically over the past two weeks.”

Thank you for masking

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends everyone age 2 or older wear a mask indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

“It’s especially important to protect those who are not old enough to receive the vaccine, which we do by wearing masks,” Ohmstede said. “There was a dramatic decrease in COVID in schools and the flu last year in schools once mask mandates were put in place. We know that universal masking works.”

If masking at your child’s school is optional, opt in.

The kind of mask doesn’t matter so much. Ohmstede said whatever mask your child will wear is a good mask. “It’s important that the child likes their mask, so ask them to help you pick out a mask. Whether it's a disposable mask or a cloth mask you wash every day, that’s less important than the fact that the child likes it and will keep it on their face.”

Lastly, especially if your child’s school isn’t mandating masking, it's essential that your child get the flu vaccine, Ohmstede said.

Thank you for vaxxing

Getting vaccinated is the best thing we can do in the fight against COVID. And it’s widely available; it’s at the offices of over 70 providers across Novant Health’s footprint. And there is a little good news: some people who’d passed on the vaccine earlier have changed their minds and now getting the vaccine.

“Call your pediatrician to confirm they have the vaccine available in their clinic,” Ohmstede said. “And if not, you can go to getvaccinated.org to see where the Novant Health vaccination sites are. There are pharmacies and other health care organizations that have vaccines widely available. At this point, it should be very easy for anybody 12 and up to get a vaccine as soon as they're ready.”

The COVID vaccine can be administered at the same time as other childhood vaccines. There is not a waiting period between the COVID vaccine and any other, Ohmstede said.

“We saw a scary dip in childhood vaccinations in 2020, as many families didn't go to their wellness visits or visit their physician's offices,” Ohmstede continued. “So, we have seen children lagging behind in vaccines for other common preventable childhood illnesses.”

Hospitalizations

In North Carolina and Charlotte in particular, we have not seen an uptick in hospitalizations of children with COVID yet, Ohmstede said. “But we have seen a dramatic increase in hospitalizations for other childhood viruses that we routinely see in the winter, especially RSV.”

“Our hospitals are very busy with children who have other viruses,” she continued. “While we are prepared to manage hospitalizations of COVID, all teams are really on deck and hoping that we can stop this surge before we fill our hospitals with children with COVID.”

What else can you do?

  • Get outside. “It’s important to provide children with activities with other children and with opportunities to explore the world around them,” Ohmstede said. “The safest way for children to play is always going to be outside. There’s been proven to be a much lower transmission rate when children play outside.”
  • If you’re exposed to COVID … “Vaccinated people may be able to end their quarantine after a negative COVID test, as long as they're wearing masks in public during their post-exposure period,” Ohmstede said. “Unvaccinated people still need to fully quarantine after exposure."
  • Talk to your children about their fears. “The important thing for children to know is that serious outcomes are very rare and most children do fine with COVID,” Ohmstede said. “They might feel yucky for a few days, but almost all of them recover completely. I think it's also important for your children to know that if their parents are vaccinated and get COVID, their parents are also most likely to recover completely.” Reminding children that it’s important for all of us to do our part – by wearing masks and following the rules – is also a good idea.

“If we follow all the rules, we can stop spread of COVID,” Ohmstede said.