Kids in Milwaukee County's minority groups disproportionately affected by COVID-19 hospitalizations

NOW: Kids in Milwaukee County’s minority groups disproportionately affected by COVID-19 hospitalizations

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- While children typically have milder COVID-19 symptoms compared to adults, the CDC says hospitalization rates are still increasing, and those hospitalizations are disproportionately affecting some kids in Milwaukee County more than others.

Health officials say children in minority groups represent more than 80-percent of all hospitalizations for kids in Milwaukee County.

“It can be very frightening when your kids get sick,” said Dr. Ben Weston, medical director at the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.

Last week more than 360 kids 18 and under tested positive in Milwaukee County. Doctors say the biggest difference between COVID-19 in adults and kids is the severity of symptoms.

“Adults generally present quite differently, so many children have little to no symptoms of COVID, or if they do have symptoms they have very mild respiratory symptoms,” said Dr. Frank Zhu, pediatric infectious diseases physician at Children’s Wisconsin & the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Even with milder symptoms, Dr. Frank Zhu says they are seeing significantly more kids testing positive in their outpatient clinics, and often times they’re finding COVID-19 positive kids when they come in for other issues.

“Most children hospitalized with COVID-19 -- many of them actually aren’t being hospitalized for COVID-19, but are incidentally found to have positive tests for COVID-19 because we screen everyone who’s admitted to the hospital,” said Dr. Zhu.

“We’ve seen hospitalizations from infants to 18-year-olds,” said Darren Rausch, health officer at the Greenfield Health Department.

Since the pandemic began in March, 124 kids have been hospitalized in Milwaukee County. Rausch says hospitalizations are disproportionate, Black children represent 50-percent of kids hospitalized with COVID-19. Hispanic children represent nearly 32-percent.

“That’s something that we’ve been watching very carefully, obviously those disparities by race and ethnicity are something that we see in the general population as well,” adds Rausch.

The CDC says one in three children hospitalized with COVID-19 were admitted to the ICU, but doctors say hospital capacity for young patients remain stable in the area.  

“If you look at, you know, the adult hospitals which are reaching capacity throughout the country now as COVID-19 is surging, versus the pediatric hospitals which really you’re not seeing that,” said Dr. Zhu.

“I think an end to this, a vaccine, will be welcome for families as well,” says Dr. Weston.

The number of COVID-19 deaths in Milwaukee County children remain at zero. The CDC advises parents limit in-person playtime and have kids connect virtually instead.

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