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How safe are children from COVID-19? Many kids get critically ill, say researchers

Media reports have underemphasized the risks posed to children during the coronavirus pandemic.

How safe are children from COVID-19? Many kids get critically ill, say researchers
[Photo: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash]
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Children are not safe from COVID-19, according to a new study in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. Both media and medical reports have focused on child death rates, which are low, but not rates of seriously ill children, which have been underemphasized in the media.

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Researchers found that 1 in every 2,381 American children with COVID-19 requires ICU treatment, which is roughly comparable with Chinese numbers. If a quarter of the U.S. population ultimately becomes infected with COVID-19, that would mean nearly 50,000 children in ICUs, a third of those under age 2. There are only 5,100 pediatric ICU beds in the United States, many already in use. Over 5,400 of those children would need ventilators. “Numbers of severe cases could overextend available pediatric hospital care resources under several moderate scenarios, despite lower severity of COVID-19 in children than in adults,” write the researchers.

[Image: courtesy of University of South Florida]
Keep in mind that these numbers only track children sick enough to require intensive hospitalization. News reports have consistently dwelt on children suffering serious to severe COVID-19 symptoms at home. The singer Pink recently reported her son’s two weeks of 4-5 daily baths to keep his high fever down. “‘I thought they promised us our kids would be OK,” she said.

The researchers plot a more severe outbreak scenario, with half of the population becoming infected, which would result in 100,000 severely ill children. The average pediatric ICU stay is 14 days. They note that the infection rate will be much higher for low-income children with parents who work in service jobs, or who live in housing projects.

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