Data show children are an increasing share of COVID-19 patients

By: - September 15, 2021 5:00 am
students at desks in classroom wearing masks for COVID-19 coronavirus prevention teacher also wearing mask bending over to help student

School children wearing masks (Stock photo | Getty Images)

In keeping with other parts of the country, COVID-19 is affecting a growing number of younger children in Wisconsin.

“The proportion of total cases in Milwaukee County that are comprised of kids under the age of 18 has been increasing,” said Darren Rausch, the health director for the Milwaukee suburb of Greenfield, at a Milwaukee County briefing on the pandemic held Tuesday.

Nearly 33% — one  out of three — of the people diagnosed with COVID-19 in the county’s most recent analysis, completed last week, were under 18, Rausch said. “In late July, that number was 20%.”

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) doesn’t publish a comparable report for the state as a whole. But in a chart that shows the number of new cases per week by age group, patients under 18 accounted for 28% of those diagnosed with COVID-19 for the week of Sept. 5.

Statewide numbers updated Tuesday showed a seven-day average of new daily cases at 1,670, according to DHS. Among Wisconsin residents, 52.5% have completed a COVID-vaccine series, and 55.8% have had at least one dose. The seven-day average for deaths from COVID-19 is now 15 per day.

Dr. Ben Weston, Milwaukee County’s chief health policy advisor and an associate professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, said the rising proportion of cases among children reflects the fact that the youngest among them aren’t yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

“We’ve seen a very clear correlation,” Weston said. “Populations with higher vaccination rates have less cases, and populations with lower vaccination rates have more. And unfortunately for children under 12, it’s not an option — they can’t get vaccinated.”

More serious disease is emerging in younger children with the more easily spread delta variant, Rausch said. And the effect of the virus has a broader reach than just the children themselves.

“We have seen time and time again that exposure in kids creates situations where parents get exposed to COVID, grandparents may get exposed,” he added. Even if a child’s symptoms are mild, “the significance of COVID-19 for that parent or for that grandparent or for that aunt or uncle, may be much more significant.”

Until a vaccine is made available to that age group, ensuring protections for children remains essential to try to control the spread of the virus, Weston said. Those include wearing masks indoors at school, observing physical distance of six feet between people and keeping windows open wherever possible to provide adequate ventilation.

“The answer is layers of protection and vaccinating as many people as are eligible,” Weston said.

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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.