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Coronavirus Cases Among Kids And Teens Have More Than Tripled Over The Past Month

Gerald Herbert
Juliet Daly, 12, plays with her brother Dominic, 5, in their family home in Covington, La., Thursday, April 30, 2020.

More than 220 children and teens in Allegheny County have been diagnosed with COVID-19, which is more than three times the number from just one month ago.

The county reports that the youngest patient is just 4 months old. Though COVID-19 disease among children is often mild, the recent spike in pediatric cases has alarmed some. 

Initial cases in Allegheny County had been more concentrated among older adults, in large part because nursing homes have been hit hard with outbreaks claiming dozens of lives. The state of Pennsylvania prohibited visitors at these facilities, which made the virus easier to contain. Additionally, none essential businesses were closed.

But in the past month, cases accelerated young adults, who tend to be more mobile.   

“It is a lot harder to control 20-year-olds, and I can say that from personal experience in my house,” said Dr. Andrew Nowalk, who specializes in modeling pediatric infectious diseases at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

The county’s contact tracing data show that people visiting bars and restaurants have played a large role in the virus’s recent spread. While children don’t often frequent these settings, the more the virus is circulating in a community, the more likely it is to make it into a daycare or youth sports practice, or infect a family member who works outside the home.

Nowalk said it’s likely that there are many more cases mong children than have been documented. The younger a person is the more likely they are to have mild symptoms or be asymptomatic.

“I am 100 percent certain there are a ton of kids who had COVID in our county, who never got tested, but definitely had disease,” he said.

The county reports just a handful of kids have been hospitalized and none have died from COVID-19. But the more the virus circulates, the more kids will get infected. A very small number of these children will become severely ill with a rare multisystem inflammatory syndrome and perhaps even die.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.