MILWAUKEE — Children now make up a third of new coronavirus cases in Milwaukee County where COVID-19 remains in the ‘extreme transmission’ category.
Milwaukee County health leaders believe this spike among children is largely because kids ages 12 and younger remain ineligible for the vaccine, but they note returning to school is also a major factor.
Health experts say just a couple months ago, children 18 and younger accounted for 20 percent of coronavirus cases in Milwaukee County. Flash forward to today and that figure is up to 32 percent.
Greenfield Public Health Director Darren Rausch says the biggest surge among kids is happening in the city of Milwaukee rather than in the suburbs.
"While it's true the Alpha variant in 2020 was different and it didn't seem to impact kids as significantly, we do know kids at that time were hospitalized,” Rausch said. “Now, with the Delta variant widely circulating, we're seeing a different disease."
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The latest data from Milwaukee Public Schools shows 165 children and dozens of staff have tested positive since Sept. 3.
Dr. Ben Weston with Milwaukee County Emergency Management says cases are not the only concern.
“13 percent of hospitalizations in the county were children based on the state database,” he said. “Now nationally, nearly twice as many kids are currently hospitalized with COVID than at any other point in the pandemic."
Dr. Weston says he’s well aware many parents with kids under the age of 12 are anxiously awaiting vaccine approval.
"We received welcome news last week that Pfizer plans to submit their data to the FDA at the end of this month, raising hopes that we could optimistically see authorization by the end of October,” he said.
Dr. Weston urges all kids to wear masks indoors at school and to keep a social distance of 6 feet whenever possible, while the Food and Drug Administration reviews vaccines for safety and effectiveness.
“We need to ensure that the correct dose of the vaccine is determined to ensure minimal side effects paired with maximum immunity,” he said.
Milwaukee County is averaging 239 new cases a day for every 100,000 people. Those numbers align with what we saw in mid-January before vaccines were widely available.