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Closely watching pediatric COVID-19 cases as delta spreads in Minnesota

The state has not yet seen a massive surge in pediatric cases.

It remains to be seen if Minnesota will be subject to a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in children the way southern states have in recent weeks as the more transmissible and possibly more severe delta variant of the coronavirus spreads.

Delta has been the dominant variant in Minnesota for about a month, but while cases and hospitalizations have risen quickly overall, there has not been a sudden spike involving children. 

“We have not seen an increase in pediatric COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalization at Mayo Clinic Children’s Center," said Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, infectious disease specialist with Mayo Clinic Children’s Center, in a statement to Bring Me The News

Cases and hospitalizations also have not been increasing at Children's Minnesota. 

"So far, the Delta variant isn't making itself known in the Children's Minnesota system. For that we're grateful as we're hearing reports of very sick children in southern U.S. states, and really significant volumes in the urgent care and emergency departments," said Joe Kurland, vaccine specialist and infection preventionist at Children’s Minnesota.

Kurland says Children's Minnesota has seen "really large numbers" of children dealing with GI and non-COVID respiratory diseases, which he says they typically don't see until the winter months. 

Look how cases involving people ages 0 to 19 have progressed in Minnesota the past two months (approximately). As you can see in the chart below, the week ending July 24 saw 565 cases, far more than any other week in the nine-week span. And cases dipped significantly during the week ending July 31, only to rise again during the week ending Aug. 7. 

Week ending and number of cases of ages 0-19: 

  • June 12: 231 cases 
  • June 19: 195 cases
  • June 26: 159 cases
  • July 3: 191 cases
  • July 10: 236 cases
  • July 17: 308 cases
  • July 24: 565 cases
  • July 31: 171 cases
  • August 7: 279 cases

During the biggest surge Minnesota has seen to date – September-December 2020 – more than 7,000 people aged 0-19 tested positive for COVID-19 the week of Nov. 8-14. That was pre-vaccine and at a time when school was in session, albeit distance learning for many. 

States like Florida and Louisiana, the two states hardest hit by the delta variant so far, are also among the states with the lowest vaccination rates and fewest mitigation tactics. 

"The places where you see kids in the hospital, the places where you see footage of kids in the hospital, are all places that are not taking mitigation strategies to keep our children safe," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Friday.

Children under 12 are not eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine yet, which is a significant proportion of the approximately 50% of the country's population that has not received a shot. It's part of the reason the CDC has recommended all students and staff in grades K-12 wear a mask when the 2021-2022 school year commences in the next few weeks. 

Minneapolis Public Schools will mandate masks when students return; Rochester Public Schools is mandating masks for children ages 2-12; St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Joe Gothard will introduce a resolution requiring masks for all children ages 2 and older, staff and visitors during Tuesday's board meeting. The resolution will then be voted on during next week's board meeting.

Of Minnesota's approximately 5.7 million residents, 57.5% have received at least one dose of a vaccine, while 54.3% have completed the vaccine series, according to the state health department.

Statewide, 44% of kids ages 12-16 have had at least one shot, compared to 54% of kids aged 16-17, according to the data. 

"We continue to strongly encourage everyone over 12 years of age to get vaccinated. The vaccines are safe and remain highly effective in preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID-19," Dr. Rajapakse said. 

"Given increasing circulation of the highly contagious delta variant in our communities, continuing to follow all of the other recommended preventative measures like masking indoors, physical distancing, avoiding crowded places, and practicing good hand hygiene is also critical. These additional measures also provide protection for our children under 12 years of age who are not yet eligible for vaccination." 

Overall, Minnesota is seeing much higher transmission rates that are being fueled by the delta variant. The last two single-day reports from the Minnesota Department of Health had more than 1,000 new cases each, and the 7-day test positivity rate is now above 5%.

"I do hope that our community vaccine rates may help prevent or at least delay the Delta variant's growth in our community," said Kurland. "We are seeing cases rise week over week through the MDH reports. Where this takes off with an exponential growth is yet to be determined but getting above that 5% positivity rate is usually a bad sign."

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