Milwaukee County officials concerned as childhood cases of COVID-19 keep spiking

NOW: Milwaukee County officials concerned as childhood cases of COVID-19 keep spiking

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- New COVID numbers announced Tuesday show the average number of childhood cases in Milwaukee County is higher now than at any other point in the pandemic. That has county health officials concerned as childhood cases keep spiking.

Children now account for one out of every three COVID cases in Milwaukee County, a sharp increase from just a few months ago when it was one in five. Health experts say the return to school is having a big impact, especially if some schools are not enforcing some type of mask requirement.

Darren Rausch is the health officer and director of the Greenfield Health Department. He said, "The risk is real in kids, and while those numbers of deaths are small, any reported death in a Wisconsin school child is tragic." Tragic, and also preventable, according to Milwaukee County health officials at Tuesday's weekly COVID briefing.

The latest data shows the sharpest spike in cases in recent weeks is among school-age children younger than 18, especially within the city of Milwaukee. Rausch said, "We reflected the highest seven-day average for kids in the city of Milwaukee for COVID-19 than we have at any point previously in the pandemic."

The overall vaccine rate for children is up, but children ages 5-12 still cannot get a vaccine. That could change soon after Pfizer submitted research data to the FDA. The formal application for approval is expected soon, which doctors say could result in those children getting vaccinated by the end of October.

Some parents are already looking ahead, wondering if their soon-to-be 12-year-olds should hold off until they're eligible for the full dose. Dr. Ben Weston, the chief health policy advisor for Milwaukee County, said, "My answer would be 'get your child protected as soon as you can.' If that means a lower dose, that should certainly be fine."

And the doctors pointed to new data that showed the use of masks in schools has a major impact on transmission and cases. Rausch said, "Schools without strong mask requirements are more likely to have more outbreaks and more cases when compared to those schools with strong mask requirements."

While the spike in childhood cases is the highest it's ever been in Milwaukee, it's not as severe in suburban communities yet. But the health officials say it is trending upwards there, too.

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