COVID cases rising in Colorado children, but few hospitalized
New COVID-19 cases are rising faster in Colorado children than in adults, and kids’ hospitalizations have grown, too — though only modestly.
New coronavirus infections in Colorado children started rising in July, in tandem with adult cases. In recent weeks, however, the rise has been faster in school-aged kids than adults, though it’s not clear if the return to classrooms is directly driving that transmission.
Other possible factors include the natural tendency for viral spread to accelerate over time, as well as activities like sports and summer camps, state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said during a news conference Tuesday.
“Our children that are unvaccinated are at higher risk than at any point in the pandemic,” she said. “Now would not be the time to bring unvaccinated children to large gatherings.”
Since the start of August, Colorado has identified COVID-19 outbreaks in 14 schools, eight child care centers, one summer camp and a vacation Bible school class. The state defines an outbreak as five or more cases linked to the same place or event.
Hospitalizations among children have increased slightly, though they still only account for about 2% of all people receiving hospital care for COVID-19 in Colorado. As of Monday, 10 children younger than 12 and seven between 12 and 17 were hospitalized in the state, Herlihy said. More than 700 adults were hospitalized, and most are unvaccinated, she said.
Scott Bookman, the state’s COVID-19 incident commander, said Colorado has more than 900 pediatric hospital beds available, and 28 pediatric intensive-care beds. Only about one-third of ventilators designed for children are currently being used, he said.
The 900 figure includes adult beds that could be converted to care for children, though, and it’s not a simple process. For that to happen, a hospital must have not only an unused adult bed, but also equipment for children and staff trained in caring for them. The state normally has about 700 children’s beds, and it isn’t clear how many are in use.
To protect kids, parents should encourage them to wear masks in school and in other public indoor spaces, have them wash their hands often, and try to avoid crowded settings where viruses can spread easily, Herlihy said. Schools can also reduce the odds of outbreaks with frequent testing and proper ventilation, she said.
“It’s all of those things (together) that’s going to give us the best chance” of containing the virus, she said.
Sarah Hamma, branch chief for COVID community testing and vendor partnerships, said the state is offering weekly testing to schools to limit the virus’ spread and try to keep classes in session.
So far, 447 schools have decided to participate, either by contracting with a vendor who will test teachers and students weekly or by administering the tests themselves, with supplies provided by the state, she said. Participating schools can start testing as early as Sept. 7, if they have the paperwork done.
Another concern is that cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, are rising, Herlihy said. In adults, RSV typically causes cold symptoms that are merely annoying, but it can be dangerous for infants and children with conditions affecting their lungs or immune systems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Typically, RSV cases start to rise in the late fall and tail off as spring approaches, but almost no one got sick from it last year, potentially leaving more kids susceptible this year, Herlihy said. Most states are reporting a similar pattern, perhaps because measures to contain COVID-19 stopped the spread of other respiratory viruses over the winter.
It’s possible a similar pattern will emerge with the flu, which had an unusually mild season in 2020, Herlihy said. She advised adults and kids to get their flu shots, to try to minimize the impact.
“We haven’t seen this before,” she said.
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