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Kids, COVID And RSV: What We Know About The Risks Right Now

a young girl in a pink and white polka dot mask
Laura Rice
Texas Standard

From Texas Standard:

One of the main differences during this current surge of coronavirus infections has been the particular focus on kids. Experts have determined the delta variant is more transmissible and that seems to extend to kids who, earlier on in the pandemic, were less likely to pass the virus to one another. But the information about the delta variant is fairly new and still developing.

Texas children's hospitals report COVID hospitalizations for kids are up – just as are hospitalizations for adults with COVID. But Frisco-based pediatrician Dr. Seth Kaplan says, right now, it seems the percentage of kids who end up in the hospital has not been going up.

“The problem is a small percentage of a large number is still a large number,” Kaplan said. “So you’re going to see more kids end up in the hospital. But, for the most part, kids are still doing fairly well.”

Dr. Seth Kaplan is president of the Texas Pediatric Society – the largest state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He says while most kids still have mild COVID cases, even those are not without risk.

“This [has] actually been one of the saddest things that we've seen this summer,” Kaplan said. “You know, we sort of had a sneak preview for what might happen in schools by what happened in summer camps this summer. And we had many children come home from sleep-away camp with COVID and come home and infect their unvaccinated parents. And we have had a significant number of those parents end up in the ICU, very sick.”

Another risk is what doctors are calling long-haul or long COVID.

“We are seeing from studies somewhere between 5% and 20% of children who get COVID who go on to develop so-called long haul COVID symptoms,” Kaplan said.

The CDC describes these symptoms as wide-ranging – and they can last for weeks or longer – even in those who initially had no COVID symptoms.

Kaplan says for children 12 and older, the best protection continues to be the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The vaccines are safe,” Kaplan said. “They have a very good safety record and they are effective. And the testing that was done for them was completely appropriate. And we are encouraging, again, everybody who's eligible to be vaccinated to get vaccinated.”

For those under 12 or otherwise ineligible for a vaccine, Kaplan says “wearing a mask is the most important thing they can do right now.”

He says masks will also help protect young kids against respiratory syncytial virus – or RSV – which is currently spreading rapidly in southern states.

“We went through a period of about 18 months when everybody was wearing a mask and everybody was social distancing, where many of the common childhood illnesses just disappeared,” Kaplan said. “And then as things began to open up in the spring and people stopped wearing a mask all the time, many of these childhood virus respiratory viruses just made this huge comeback.”

There is no vaccine for RSV. Most cases of it are like a really bad cold but, for the youngest children, Kaplan says it can be dangerous.

“It can make them have a very, very, very hard time breathing to the point where they need supplemental oxygen or other help,” Kaplan said. “And so with the current increase in kids with COVID needing hospitalization due to the numbers going up, our hospitals are already full with kids with RSV. So it's kind of a double whammy that's hitting kids very, very hard.”

Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.