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More contagious delta strain infecting kids

  • 2 min to read
UW School of Medicine and Public Health

In Dane County, where more than 70 percent of those eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine have done so, health officials are nevertheless seeing a surge in cases, mainly among the unvaccinated.

And right now in Dane County, the unvaccinated are children.

“The proportion of children infected now is a little higher because we have protected all of the elderly, so they’re out of the equation,” said. Dr. Ellen Wald.

“So when you think about all of the people who are susceptible,” Wald added, “they are mainly the unvaccinated. The larger proportion of those are children under 18.”

Wald chairs the Department of Pediatrics for the UW School of Medicine and Public Health and is a UW Health pediatric infectious disease specialist.

She said while American Family Children’s Hospital’s beds are full, when she walked through recently, none of the patients had COVID-19. Other respiratory viruses normally seen in winter are causing the current hospitalizations.

“It does make it scary because we have all these cases that aren’t COVID. If we had a big surge of COVID, that would make it bad,” Wald said.

Wald is glad many school districts are requiring masks again, she said, noting the combination of COVID and other respiratory diseases “could cause trouble.”

Wearing masks helps protect from all respiratory infections, and if students begin to show symptoms similar to COVID-19 once the school year resumes, disruptions will be likely.

“There’s no way to tell COVID from any other cold or sore throat without testing,” Wald said.

“And then you’ll have a kid with symptoms, and they’ll need to test, and their contacts will have to quarantine, and it’s going to lead to a tremendous amount of work,” Wald added.

“So the wearing of masks and vaccinating everybody who is eligible is so important,” Wald said.

Public Health Madison and Dane County’s latest data from Aug. 12 showed an average of 82 positive cases of COVID-19, mostly the delta variant.

Wald said the delta variant has been proven to be more highly transmissible than the previous strain, but the severity of the disease seems no different.

Unlike the previous strain of the virus, delta strain is causing worse cold symptoms in children, according to Dr. Dan Beardmore, a pediatrician with SSM Health who practices in Janesville.

Also, the current vaccines are less effective against the delta strain, Beardmore said, causing breakthrough cases.

But he said vaccinated people generally have mild symptoms.

Asked how parents can protect children, both pediatricians say parents and those they spend time should be vaccinated.

“You want to create a ring around [children] of as many people who are vaccinated as possible. If their parents are vaccinated, then they’re less likely to bring it home into the house, and that’s one way to protect the kids,” Wald said.

Currently, the vaccine is currently being tested for children, but the Federal Drug Administration’s requirements are more rigorous.

The FDA has asked Pfizer and Moderna to increase their numbers in the trials by several thousand to assure the public the evaluation has been adequate.

“The public has been very skittish about this vaccine,” Wald said.

Wald said she believes the vaccine won’t be available for the age 5-11 age group until November or December, and for those younger, not until 2020.

Until the vaccine becomes available for children, Wald urges the public to wear masks and get the vaccine.

“The way we protect children, the children protect themselves until they can get vaccinated. They need to use their masks whenever they’re with groups that are not part of their family,” Wald said.

As kids get ready to return to school, Beardmore said just about every pediatrician he talks to agrees that wearing a mask will offer the best protection, whether they are vaccinated or not.

“Let’s get vaccinated and let’s wear masks so kids can stay in school,” Beardmore said.

“Almost everybody agrees children learn better in school than at home virtually,” Beardmore added.

Lower infection rates at schools will prevent parents from having to leave work to have their children tested then stay home and quarantine, Beardmore said.

“Instead of arguing about the science, let’s try to get our kids back to school and our parents back to work. To do that is very simple: To do that, get vaccinated and wear a mask,” he added.

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