'Greatest threat': A warning on the dangers of COVID-19's Delta variant and children

COVID-19 tests with kids
Posted at 4:00 PM, Jun 24, 2021

MILWAUKEE — The newest COVID-19 variant is being called the “greatest threat” to the nation’s efforts to contain the pandemic by White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The Centers for Disease Control has labeled the Delta variant “a variant of concern.” Now a doctor who heads up the vaccine research group at Mayo Clinic, Dr. Greg Poland, is warning parents they need to be proactive to keep their children safe.

Registered nurse Diane Miller pulls on gloves and other protective equipment as she prepares to enter patient rooms in the COVID acute care unit at UW Medical Center-Montlake, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Seattle. King County, where the hospital is located, has been on a downward trend of COVID-19 cases after two-and-a-half straight months of increases. But the current lull could be, and some experts believe will be, upended as more contagious variants of the virus spread throughout United States. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

“For people who are not vaccinated, they now enter the most dangerous phase of the pandemic,” said Poland.

First seen in India, the Centers for Disease Control is now tracking the spread of the Delta COVID-19 variant here in the United States. The CDC considers it a variant of concern because of how severe the cases are as well as the reduced effectiveness of treatments.

A warning on the dangers of COVID-19's Delta variant and children

“[Unvaccinated people] are now facing is the Delta variant, the so-called Indian variant: a much more transmissible, much more highly effective and more severe virus,” said Poland.

Poland studies vaccine responses in adults and children. He is worried about the impact of the COVID-19 Delta variant on children, specifically.

COVID-19 tests with kids
Penny Brown, 2, is held by her mother, Heather Brown, as her nose is lightly swabbed during a test for COVID-19 at a new walk-up testing site at Chief Sealth High School, Friday, Aug. 28, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

“With the original variant that circulated, I would say that was generally true - kids tended not to get infected, and if they did, they were asymptomatic or mild. Right now, and going forward, they're not getting infected with a virus from last year. They're getting infected with the new variants,” said Poland.

Unlike other COVID-19 strains, Dr. Poland says the Delta variant is causing more severe cases in kids.

“Right now in the U.S., almost 25% of the hospitalizations occurring due to COVID are in kids. That was not true last year. It is true now,” said Poland. “They are, in fact, facing a more infectious virus that has viral loads inside their body about four times higher than the virus that's circulated last year.”

So far, confirmed cases of the Delta variant locally and statewide remain low. As of June 17, there were 26 confirmed cases of the Delta variant in Wisconsin, and two in Milwaukee, according to the Milwaukee Health Department.

And the Greenfield Health Director, Darren Rausch, said COVID-19 cases overall are down for children in Milwaukee County. On average, one to two children a week are hospitalized for COVID-19.

From June 9-15, a total of 14 children tested positive for COVID-19, with one hospitalization, according to the Milwaukee County COVID-19 Epidemiology Intel Team.

Of those kids who do end up in the hospital due to COVID-19 in Milwaukee County, minorities make up disproportionately high rates. Nearly half are Black children and nearly a third are Hispanic.

Milwaukee County children COVID-19 hospitalizations:

  • 47.1 % Black
  • 28.7% Hispanic/Lantinx
  • 14.2% White

Rausch has concerns about what could come next.

“We are, at all levels of public health, monitoring that Delta variant,” said Rausch. “While the numbers are low in Wisconsin, we know they are not low in other parts of the country.”

Poland’s advice for parents is continued vigilance, which means washing hands often, practicing social distancing and getting the vaccine as soon as possible.

“The idea behind immunizing kids is to prevent the development of those variants, prevent them from getting sick,” said Poland.

Right now, the group of children facing the highest level of COVID-19 cases in Milwaukee County are teens ages 15-17. Currently, anyone over 12 years old is eligible to be vaccinated. Younger age groups are expected to become eligible for the vaccine later this year.

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