[Update: March, 28: The first U.S. infant death associated with COVID-19 occurred in Illinois and health officials are investigating, urging people to follow physical distancing practices.]
As the coronavirus pandemic progressed, parents were relived by the CDC's assurance that "based on available evidence, children do not appear to be at higher risk for COVID-19 than adults."
But new research is emerging that shows while children with COVID-19 usually don't get as sick as adults, the youngest age groups—infants and preschoolers—see more severe cases than older kids do. According to a new study posted online pre-publication by the journal Pediatrics, babies and preschoolers can become severely ill if they get COVID-19.
The journal took the step of posting the study online before publication as a means to expedite the spread of this information. The scientists want us to know that little kids are not immune to this. They don't want us to panic (just like with the previous studies, this one found that more than 90% of kids experience mild or moderate cases) but they do want us to be proactive.
It's time to cancel 1st birthdays, playdates and meet-ups with mom friends, because for about 6% of children, COVID-19 becomes a severe or critical illness, and the risks go up for younger kids. This recent study (which was looking at data from China) only 4% of kids between 6 and 15 developed severe cases, but in kids under 5 it was 7% and for kids under 1 it was nearly 11%. In adults, it's over 18%.
In the United States, researchers say more work needs to be done on this topic because understanding why children (in general) are less impacted than adults is necessary to stop the spread of this disease and make sure babies are protected.
Steven L. Zeichner, MD, PhD, the head of University of Virginia's Health's Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, and Andrea T. Cruz, MD, MPH, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Houston's Baylor College of Medicine, co-authored a commentary that appears alongside the Chinese research in Pediatrics.
"First, while children are less likely to become severely ill than older adults, there are subpopulations of children with an increased risk for more significant illness," Zeichner and Cruz write.
They continue: "Another study in hospitalized Norwegian children detected [non-COVID-19] coronaviruses in 10% of hospitalized children with respiratory tract infections. Younger age, underlying pulmonary pathology, and immunocompromising conditions have been associated with more severe outcomes with non-COVID-19 coronavirus infections in children."
Bottom line: Kids aren't immune, and babies are at risk if people don't follow the recommendations. Keep your distance, keep up with your friends and family through phone calls, FaceTime and text and make sure everyone in your household is practicing good hand hygiene.