Good news from CDC: New studies coming tomorrow show kids aren't getting sicker from Delta

There are two studies coming to be exact but Rochelle Walensky couldn’t resist talking them up in today’s briefing, which was devoted to keeping children safe. One of the most pressing mysteries since pediatric hospitals began filling up this summer is whether that surge was due to more kids getting infected by Delta, with the same share ending up in the hospital as before Delta arrived, or whether it was due to Delta being more virulent in children. If the new variant is making kids sicker, that means the average child is at greater risk of contracting a serious case this fall. And if that’s true, already anxious parents are going to freak out about sending their children back into the classroom.

As far as the CDC can tell, says Walensky, kids aren’t getting sicker. The share ending up in the hospital in the Delta era apparently isn’t much different from the share pre-Delta. If you’re a mom or dad, you can breathe easier about in-class instruction this fall. We’ll have the data tomorrow.

The flip side of that good news, though, is the bad news that many more kids are being infected by the hyper-contagious new variant just as many more adults are. Which means, even though the share of children needing hospital care hasn’t increased since spring, the raw number of kids needing it has increased. A lot.

Between August 20 and 26, an average of 330 children were admitted to hospitals every day with Covid-19, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s the highest rate of new Covid-19 hospitalizations among children in more than a year — a record that was broken several times in August, according to CDC data.

“This virus that we’re dealing with now is a game changer,” said Dr. Mark Kline, physician-in-chief of Children’s Hospital New Orleans.

In just three weeks since school started this fall, more than 500,000 kids have tested positive. Children’s hospitals in hot spots are doing their best to cope:

As Florida schools opened their doors to students — some maskless — the number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 has increased more than tenfold.

At a news conference Thursday with U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., University of South Florida College of Public Health professor Jason Salemi said an average of six children were hospitalized each day with COVID-19 in early June. But during the last week of August, that increased to an average of 66 children…

Christina Canody, a BayCare health system pediatrician who took part in the news conference, said 180 COVID-19 pediatric patients were hospitalized at BayCare’s 13 hospitals in August, the “highest by far” and triple the previous high count. In addition to increasing hospitalizations, Canody said the health system has seen an uptick in the number of emergency room visits among pediatric patients.

It’s not just Florida that’s seeing rising pediatric hospitalizations either, of course. There’s no telling where those numbers will go as more schools nationally reopen this month.

The most important point Walensky made today, and what I expect will be the focus of news coverage tomorrow, is the correlation between local vaccination rates and kids being hospitalized. More kids landed in the ER in states with lower vaccination rates, she says of one study’s findings. That jibes with data from Israel earlier this year showing that kids were less likely to get infected if they lived in communities where more adults were vaccinated. Which stands to reason: If a vaxxed adult is less likely to transmit the virus than an unvaxxed one, a kid who’s around mostly vaxxed adults will have a lower chance of getting infected. Expand that to a community scale and naturally you’d expect more children getting sick, in some cases seriously so, where there are more unvaccinated adults walking around.

It’s been said many times that risk-tolerant Americans would be more likely to take COVID seriously if it were children who were suffering more so than adults. Well, Walensky’s telling them now that their collective risk-neutrality is leading to more kids suffering. If you want to protect younger children who can’t get vaccinated yet, your best strategy is to get more adults in the community vaccinated. Maybe that finding will convince a few unvaccinated holdouts to finally take the plunge. Do it for the children.

Walensky also says that the studies will show that vaccinated adolescents were far less likely to land in the hospital than unvaccinated ones, another finding that’s logical enough. As for when younger kids might be eligible for the vaccine, the FDA said a few days ago that it might be a few months still — for a very particular reason:

I’m glad to live in a country in which anti-vax paranoia determines the timetable for how soon vulnerable kids will have access to a drug that might keep them out of the hospital. Here’s Walensky.