Note: This story was updated to correct the figures for total Covid-19 cases among Valley children.
Children account for roughly 28% of positive COVID-19 tests administered across Geisinger’s system over the past two weeks, according to data shared by the hospital system.
Dr. Jennifer Vodzak, pediatric infectious disease specialist with Geisinger, said the Janet Weis Children’s Hospital has been busy with children who contracted COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
Minors didn’t account for many cases earlier in the pandemic. The rise in pediatric positives is attributed both to the spread of the delta variant and heightened community interaction as more students are in school and participating in extracurriculars compared to last school year, Vodzak said.
“It’s easier to transmit the delta variant from person to person,” Vodzak said. “What we’re understanding a little better now in the dynamics of the virus is that it’s similar to lots of respiratory viruses we know about. The big difference is that people with no immunity are much more likely to become infected and become sick from the infection.”
People overall, not necessarily children, Vodzak said.
Children are far less likely to develop severe symptoms compared to adults. Hospitalizations and deaths are far lower in children compared to adults, she said.
However, as the delta variant spreads and more children are becoming infected, Vodzak said the rate of severe illness and hospitalization will rise.
“We are seeing children who are sicker. That’s probably due in part to more children being exposed to COVID-19 this year in their daily activities,” Vodzak said.
A combined 35,140 school-age children across the commonwealth, ages 5 to 18, tested positive for COVID-19 since Aug. 16, Pennsylvania Department of Health data shows. That’s up 27,013 since such data was first shared on Sept. 2.
The latest datasets show 5,946 children age 4 and younger contracted the disease since Aug. 16, the date some schools began reopening this school year.
The following cumulative figures are specific to Valley counties since Aug. 16 for all children’s age groups: Montour, 40; Northumberland, 379; Snyder, 110; Union, 154.
Dr. Shawn McGlaughlin, Family Medicine of Evangelical-Mifflinburg, was among a three-doctor panel who addressed Mifflinburg community residents about Covid-19 during a virtual meeting Tuesday.
He agreed with Vodvak that the prevalence of the more infectious Delta variant is to blame for the rise in cases among children. It’s simply more contagious, he said.
He reiterated that not much has changed these last 19 months since the pandemic’s onset in terms of mitigation: wear a mask, wash hands, maintain social distance. The latest protection is one he advocates: get a vaccine.
“No one thing is really capable of mitigation or eliminating that concern. It’s a combination of factors,” McGlaughlin said.
Vodzak advised parents and guardians to take a bundled approach to protect children: get vaccinated, if eligible; maintain social distance, wear a twin-layered mask, be vigilant in washing hands. She said the adults should help children become more comfortable with wearing masks. Make sure they fit snugly around the nose and mouth, practice breathing and wear masks to set a good example, she said.
“If you do all of these things you have a better chance of protecting your family than if you only do one or two of these things,” Vodzak said.
Masks can trap bacteria already inside one’s mouths. That’s why, she said, it’s important to wash and dry cloth masks before reusing them. Disposable masks should be worn and tossed away at least daily.
Pfizer and BioNTech are expected to seek emergency use authorization (EUA) for a vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, like the company did initially last December for its initial vaccine push. As it stands, people ages 12 and up are eligible for Pfizer’s jab, which has since received formal approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
The EUA might arrive by the end of October, McGlaughlin estimates.
“That gives us some cause for celebration and optimism,” he said.