Breanna Reeves | The IE Voice
As California marks the anniversary of the first COVID-19 case identified in the state two years ago on January 26, 2020, it is experiencing a sharp increase in cases, particularly among school-aged children.
The California Department of Public Health reported more than 860,000 cases of COVID-19 among children, with children between zero to 17 accounting for 17.4 percent of COVID-19 cases.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hospitalization rates have increased across the U.S. for children younger than four years of age who are not eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky noted that current pediatric hospitalizations in the U.S. are at the highest rate compared to any prior point during the pandemic.
“Sadly, we are seeing the rates of hospitalizations increasing for children zero to four, children who are not yet currently eligible for COVID-19 vaccination,” said Dr. Walensky, during a media briefing on January 7. “We are still learning more about the severity of Omicron in children, and whether these increases we are seeing in hospitalization reflect a greater burden of disease in the community or the lower rates of vaccination for these children under age 18.”
First infant death as cases among children and youth rise
On January 13, Riverside County reported the first infant death due to COVID-19, the first infant death in the county. Previously, a 4-year-old child had been the youngest to die as a result of the virus.
“Our thoughts and sympathies go out to the parents, family, and others who are impacted by this tragedy,” said Dr. Geoffrey Leung, public health officer for Riverside County, in a statement. “This loss reminds us that this virus does not discriminate between the young and old.”
In Riverside, cases among those ages zero to 17 are at 71,031. On January 19, Riverside University Health System Department of Public Health reported 4,780 cases among those zero to 17, a sharp increase in cases for that age group in the last month.
Vaccination rates remain lowest in Riverside County among children five to 11, with 11.5 percent fully vaccinated. Vaccination rates are higher for those 12 and up with 48.6 percent fully vaccinated and 54.4 percent among children ages 16 to 17.
In-person instruction partly to blame
Dr. Althea Daniel, a Pediatric Physician at Loma Linda University Health, partially attributes the increase in cases among children to the return of in-person instruction. In Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, students are not required to be vaccinated to attend class. Students are encouraged to self-screen for COVID-19 at home, but testing is offered throughout the counties for students.
In San Bernardino County, 16.3 percent of children ages five to 11 are partially vaccinated and 51.8 percent of adolescents ages 12 to 17 are vaccinated. Low vaccination rates among young children may be attributed to vaccine hesitancy surrounding the newly approved authorization for children five to 11.
For parents who are hesitant to vaccinate their children, Dr. Daniel recommends that parents speak to medical doctors they trust, such as their child’s doctor, regarding any questions they have about the vaccine. As new variants like Omicron continue to spread, new studies and information are being released.
“None of the physicians who are practicing right now has ever lived through a pandemic. So, we’re pretty much going with what the experts think and believe at the time,” said Dr. Daniel. “What we believe now is a little different from what we believed a year-and-a-half ago.”
Dr. Daniel explained that infectious disease experts have been good about putting out new information as they learn new information regarding the virus. The CDC recently released updated guidelines for K-12 students regarding safety against the virus such as encouraging universal indoor masking for children ages two and older.