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Health

Children ages 10-19 made up a disproportionate amount of COVID cases in Michigan in September, October

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COVID cases among children younger than twelve years have increased by 30% since last week, according to a state update.

Preteens and teens made up a disproportionate number of COVID cases during fall, when schools returned to in-person classes, according to data from the University of Michigan.

Children ages 10 to 19 make up almost 13% of the state’s population.

But they made up 18% of COVID cases from September 28 to October 26. That’s more than 14,200 confirmed cases.

And in the dates spanning August 31 to September 28, they made up 20% of cases. This means that school-aged kids are seeing more cases than one would expect, based on their percentage of the population.

The dashboard's disparities feature updates every Tuesday for the last week. Users can filter for the latest 28 days — but it will be the 28 days from last Tuesday. U of M flags a disparity if a group has 33% more COVID-19 cases, deaths or hospitalizations "per million than the general population.”

Dr. Elizabeth Lloyd is a Michigan Medicine clinical assistant professor who focuses on pediatric infectious disease.

“I will also say personally, in our hospital, I have seen more children hospitalized and some very sick in the ICU with COVID-19 in just the last few months since the Delta variant came about than I have throughout the whole pandemic,” she said during a state health department town hall.

A Tuesday update from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services also reported that:

  • COVID cases among children younger than twelve years have increased by 30% since last week.
  • Case rates remain highest for 10-19-year-olds. 

Marisa Eisenberg is a University of Michigan epidemiologist who works on the COVID dashboard. She said the state as a whole was seeing increases before the back-to-school period.

“And then during that back-to-school period we saw this breakaway where the school-age population started to go up much faster than the rest of the other age groups,” she said to Michigan Radio.

Schools

Michigan's Chief Medical Executive Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian explained the current rises the state is seeing.

“In Michigan, what we really saw was our case number started to go up after schools opened,” she said to Michigan Radio. “And it was predominantly in five to 18-year-olds. And the way that this pandemic works, and the way that this virus is transmitted, you're not just going to see transmissions solely in one demographic, there's always spillover.”

“So it was sort of led by the five to 18-year-old age group, and then there's been spill over into other age groups and cases continue to build. And along with that, we continue to see outbreaks in K through 12 settings. A lot of this has to do with the fact that we don't have masking in schools across the state. And the weather is getting colder, people are moving indoors more.”

K-12 schools have the highest number of outbreaks and clusters in the state, increasing by 4% since last week. Fewer than half of Michigan school districts have a mask policy.

Even as vaccine eligibility expands, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services still recommends universal masking in K-12 schools.

Lloyd also encouraged caution as winter — and a tough respiratory season — approaches. Especially as cases are not going down in Michigan. She encouraged distancing, doing activities outside or in well-ventilated areas.

“Hopefully, eventually, there will be good enough vaccination levels. But it may not be the case that everyone's going to be vaccinated right away. So I think it is important to keep doing these, at least in the near future as we sort of see what the vaccine uptake is going to be.”

Eisenberg, the U of M epidemiologist, looked at school districts that required masks versus those that didn’t — and the ones that did not require masks tended to have higher case rates than the others that do.

She admitted there could be other factors — such as: districts without masks may also have more social gatherings or lower vaccination rates.

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“But still, it's pretty suggestive before school started, those different districts also looked kind of the same,” she said. “And then after school started, you saw this difference between the ones that had mask rules and the ones that didn't. So I would still encourage parents and kids to wear masks when they're at school.”

Eisenberg also points out that shortly after the COVID case rates in the school-age population started to increase, the rates in the 31 to 50-year-old age group started to increase faster. And she said there could be a lot of reasons for that.

“But it's suggestive of the idea that like, ‘Well, if your kids are getting sick, probably the parents are maybe getting sick, too, right?’ So it doesn't just stay with that school-age group.”

That’s why it is important for young children to get vaccinated, she said.

Vaccines for kids

Vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 got the green light last week, allowing more than 825,000 young Michiganders to get a pediatric dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

As of Tuesday, over 14,100 kids ages 5 to 11 have had at least one dose. And almost 43% of young people ages 12 to 15.

State medical and public health officials urge parents to vaccinate the 825,000 Michigan children in that age group.

In light of the new pediatric dose availability, Elizabeth Lloyd, the Michigan Medicine doctor, joined other pediatricians in an MDHHS town hall to urge parents to vaccinate their children.

She said while children have a lower risk of severe COVID disease, it is not zero. Children can develop a rare inflammatory disease that has impacted 5,526 kids in the U.S. and 176 kids in Michigan. Kids specifically in the 5-11 age group have been hospitalized because of the inflammatory condition, called MIS-C.

She said while those numbers don’t sound huge, “...it actually ends up making COVID one of the top 10 causes of death in this age group in children over the past year. And these are now potentially preventable with (the) vaccine.”

“And even though some other places nationwide are fortunately starting to see a decline in COVID-19 cases, we really haven't been seeing that yet here in Michigan,” she added.

Children can also transmit the virus to family members or have their school experience disrupted, potentially affecting their development.

Eisenberg is still working on a model to see how the vaccine availability for kids ages 5-11 will impact virus transmission in Michigan.

“There has been so much transmission in the school-age population, I think it really underscores how important it is for those five to 11 and everyone else to get vaccinated,” she said.

Dr. Bagdasarian said the vaccination rates are still low among younger groups, as compared to people age 65 and up in the state.

“The vaccines are fantastic at preventing severe outcomes and death. And they have done that in our older age groups. But it's young people who are very mobile, and who are going into these densely packed places like schools and universities and who are moving around society."

"And so if we can't ensure vaccination across the age spectrum, I don't think we'll be very successful in preventing outbreaks and preventing the severe consequences."

Dr. Joseph Fakhoury, another pediatrician who was part of the MDHHS town hall, said some parents wonder if their kids can rely on natural immunity. Those questions are still big unknowns, he said. But he said the vaccine is a robust answer.

“(Parents) relied on us as their child's doctor to help them when their kid had a fever in the middle of the night, or when they started having some vomiting in the middle of the night or on vacation. They've looked to us for some guidance and advice, and they trusted us with a lot of that guidance and advice over many, many years,” he said.

“But at the end of the day, we as your pediatricians and family doctors have been invested in the care of your child for such a long time. And I think that it's super important to remember that for all the other things that you've trusted us for, we have your best interests at heart.”

To find vaccine doses near you, you can visit VaccineFinder.org.

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