State health officials say highest number of COVID-19 cases detected in kids under 18

NOW: State health officials say highest number of COVID-19 cases detected in kids under 18

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- State health officials say a greater proportion of COVID-19 cases this month have been found in children under 18. They say there are also five variants of concern detected in Wisconsin, and all are more contagious.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services says it hasn’t always been like this throughout the pandemic, but this week the highest number of cases were detected among kids under 18. In Milwaukee County, hospitalizations in younger populations are being noticed.

“We’re seeing many more young people hospitalized today than we did back then, and this is likely due to our older population being more likely to be vaccinated,” said Dr. Ben Weston, associate professor at Medical College of Wisconsin and director of medical services at Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.

From March 28 through April 3, there were 736 confirmed COVID-19 cases in children under the age of 18. Kids ages 9 to 17 made up more than 500 of those cases.

DHS data show the B.1.1.7 variant is most prevalent in the state.

“There is a very important segment of our community, meaning our kids, who are susceptible to the virus, they can become infected, they can spread it to each other, and they can spread it to vulnerable, unvaccinated adults,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer at DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases.

Milwaukee County health officials say increased case trends in kids under 18 are something they have to watch very carefully in the coming weeks, especially because they’re not certain if it’s school related or sports related.

“In Milwaukee County, we have seen increased cases among school children who play sports,” said Darren Rausch, health director at Greenfield Health Department.

“The current seven-day averages are rates we haven’t seen since early February,” adds Rausch.

Doctors say COVID-19 symptoms could develop later on in children.

“From MIS-C or multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children where they have disease weeks or months after the initial infection,” Dr. Weston says.

Dr. Westergaard says the state has seen 88 cases of MIS-C in children and there’s a dramatic racial and ethnic disparity, with African American children having seven times the amount of MIS-C cases than white children.

“All of the strategies that we have been putting in place for the past year are now more important than ever to protect young people from getting infected,” he says.  

Dr. Weston says as of now, hospital capacity is not a problem. He recommends teens 16 and older get vaccinated as soon as possible, especially as new variants emerge.

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