A record 61,000 children in the United States tested positive for the coronavirus last week, medical professionals said, a troubling sign as the nation grapples with increased infection rates among all age groups and a potential third wave of the virus in the year’s cooler months.
The number represents the highest number of new child cases of coronavirus since the pandemic began, according to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association.
Although children do not typically experience serious complications from the virus, researchers noted that the long-term effects and complications on those who become ill are not yet known.
Plus, children can spread the virus even if they don’t become seriously ill, said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, an epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist at Stanford University School of Medicine.
“These numbers reflect a disturbing increase in cases throughout most of the United States in all populations, especially among young adults,” Maldonado said. “We are entering a heightened wave of infections around the country.”
The increase in cases comes as public health officials are concerned about a potential new wave in the virus as winter approaches, and as school districts across the country, including in California, are continuing to grapple with what sort of teaching model should be adapted amid the pandemic.
Additionally, as the holidays approach, medical professionals are urging Americans to re-think traditional family gatherings.
“We would encourage family holiday gatherings to be avoided if possible especially if there are high risk individuals in the household,” Maldonado said.
Nearly 100,000 children in California have tested positive the coronavirus since the pandemic began, the AAP report said.
The AAP warned that the reported number of cases is likely undercounted because many children might not have been tested for the virus after becoming only mildly ill.
In California, 96,978 children aged 0 to 17 tested positive for the coronavirus through Oct. 29. California was the state with the largest share of childhood infections, though data from New York state was not included in the report because that state did not provide age-distribution numbers for infected cases. New York was the epicenter of the coronavirus in the United States in the pandemic’s early months. In addition to 49 states, the report included data from Puerto Rico, Guam, Washington, D.C. and New York City.
All told, the AAP said 853,635 childhood cases of the virus have been reported in the United States, representing 11.1% of all cases. Children in California represented 10.7% of the state’s 908,713 cases. Different states had different metrics for who was considered a child, and not all states have been reporting age distributions for all cases, the AAP said.
“This is a stark reminder of the impact this pandemic is having on everyone – including our children and adolescents,” AAP President Dr. Sally Goza said in a statement. “This virus is highly contagious, and as we see spikes in many communities, children are more likely to be infected, too.
Mortality rates are low: 121 children have died in the states that gave an age distribution for deaths, plus New York City. Two children have died in California, the AAP said.
But while the chances for death and serious complications are minimal for children, researchers are concerned about the explosive growth in childhood cases seen over the past few weeks.
Michael Williams is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email Michael.Williams@sfchronicle.com or Twitter @Michaeldamianw.