Coronavirus: Over 100 Clark County children have tested positive; questions remain about impact

Easy answers are hard to come by when it comes to COVID-19 and kids.

Through the end of the first week in August, 59 of the 1,133 confirmed or probable cases (5.21%) in Clark County involved children 9 or under while 55 (4.85%) were 10-19.

The combined 10.1 percent means children 19 and under are underrepresented in a county in which about 22 percent of the population was 18 or under according to U.S. Census data from last year.

But that may not be all of the story with a virus that has been known to scientists for less than a year and prevalent in the United States only since March.

“Unfortunately we have a lot left to learn about children and COVID-19 because we didn’t learn that much when we closed schools early on because there was a lot less exposure,” said Clark County Combined Health District director Charlie Patterson. “So unfortunately we have some learning to do, and that learning is going to take place, unfortunately, when the school buildings open up and we’ll see more what’s going on.”

The latest curveball came from a study published in The Lancet and the Journal of the American Medical Association that found 10 to 100 percent more viral load carried by children 5 years old and younger compared to an average adult with the virus.

“So while the kids don’t exhibit a lot of symptoms, they can easily spread the virus,” Patterson said. “And they can spread it actually more efficiently than other people who get sick. So it’s not just that small percentage of the kids (who develop an illness) that we’re worried about. We’re worried about the adults — the parents, the grandparents and great grandparents of those kids who don’t have that low percentage of negative outcomes when they’re exposed to the virus.”

That could be especially problematic at daycares since the youngest children also need the most attention that includes close contact.

“You’re helping put kids into car seats, you’re helping them get dressed, you’re helping with their hygiene,” Patterson said. “You’re helping them with a lot of stuff where you’re much closer to that child than you are to an older child who can do those things by themselves. And by the nature of them being younger there are more opportunities to pass it to and from those children.”

While concerning, that news did not lead Patterson to advise parents to keep their kids home from daycare or school, something he stressed is a personal decision likely dependent on multiple factors for most families.

“Economics drives a lot of our decisions, as you know,” he said. “Economics has driven the decision to reopen Ohio, and it’s not just economics but economics and the risk-reward for children being back in school.”

His worries about what he called “COVID fatigue” at this time are heightened, though.

“Many people are weary of doing things differently, and you know some of the pleasures in life, have been have been denied us,” Patterson said. “Whether that would be travel or eating at our favorite restaurant and not worrying about who else is around us. Lots of those things have been taken away, so we have that COVID fatigue, but now is not the time to succumb to the COVID fatigue.

“Now is the time to up our game, understanding that we’re even more going and sending our kids out into the world and we have to do an even better job over the next couple of months to try to keep this virus in check.”

A trio of doctors who spoke during Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s press conference Tuesday shared those sentiments.

Dr. John Barnard of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus said that while research showed 90 percent of children who develop symptoms with COVID-19 handle it well, a small fraction get sick enough to require hospitalization.

He added that combined data from the six children’s hospitals around the state had found only 8.6% of 14,000 children with COVID-like symptoms had tested positive for the disease since March.

Only 1.4% of around 20,000 asymptomatic children who were tested came up positive, though Barnard said that number was 2.9% in the past week.n

With daycares returning to full capacity this week and many schools set to reopen soon, Dr. Patty Manning of Cincinnati Children’s stressed the importance of wearing masks, maintaining distance, hand hygiene, cleaning surfaces and ventilation.

“We found that is a very robust package of safety for students,” she said, stressing that community involvement is also important.

“We are all connected. We are all in this together, and so what happens in our communities will impact our schools and what happens in our schools will be reflected in our community,” she said. “If we want children to do these things, if we want children to wear masks, we have to wear masks. We have to model that behavior for them as the adults and the parents in their lives. And so it’s really all for one in this type of climate that we’re in.”

Beyond that, Dr. Adam Mezoff of Children’s Hospital in Dayton stressed the importance of adults staying home when they feel ill and keeping symptomatic children home as well, a normal suggested practice that is more important now whether a child might have COVID-19 or another more familiar ailment such as the flu.

“It doesn’t have to be COVID,” Mezoff said. “So whether it’s a staff person or a student, if you have a fever and you’re sick, first and foremost, please stay home. That will help protect others in your school and other families.”

Patterson echoed the importance of masks and social distancing. He also suggested adults prepare kids for wearing masks before they return to school or daycare.

He also acknowledged the department expects cases of COVID-19 to rise when those facilities begin to fill back up with kids.

Even if Clark County moves back into the red on the Ohio Public Health Advisory System, as it was two weeks ago, Patterson said that alone would not necessitate closing schools or daycares again. That would depend on multiple factors, including duration.

He stressed the importance of continuing to learn to live in ways that will limit the spread.

“You’ve heard us say a lot, social distance and wear a mask,” Patterson said. “We’ve been saying wash your hands and clean surfaces from the beginning of this. I think those things become that much more important when we venture out into the world.

“There are people very upset with me that I’m not ordering schools to close, but it’s about balance. It’s not about trying to make everybody happy because we long since decided that’s not something we could do in public health. So what we’re trying to do is keep people as healthy, well-rounded individuals with the best success for the future by keeping all of these things in mind and not just saying well the safest thing to do is for everybody to sequester in their house. We know that’s true, right? But if people don’t go to their job and make money to pay for their food, clothing and shelter then we’ve got a problem.”

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