Lisa L. Colangelo
With the number of children testing positive for COVID-19 hitting new highs across the country, doctors on Long Island said they are better prepared to treat kids who contract the virus.
For the more seriously ill children, they are staying away from using ventilators and starting steroids earlier. And they also have learned better ways of monitoring kids who test positive but have no symptoms or mild symptoms.
“We’re picking patients up earlier now because everyone’s aware of it, which is great,” said Dr. James Schneider, chief of pediatric critical care medicine at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park. “Testing has helped out a ton.”
More than 1.3 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 across the nation, according to statistics released this week by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The number of new child COVID-19 cases for the week ending Nov. 26 was close to 154,000 — the highest weekly increase since the pandemic started in March, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Although severe illness from COVID-19 is still considered rare in children, the American Academy of Pediatrics said there is an “urgent need” to gather more data on how it impacts their physical, emotional and mental health. In addition, children without symptoms still pose a risk because they can pass the virus to other members of their family.
“Children, especially those in the 12-18 age range, can transmit the virus just as effectively as adults,” said Dr. Christina Johns, a pediatrician and senior medical adviser for PM Pediatrics.
Johns said the number of young patients testing positive for COVID-19 at PM Pediatrics’ urgent care centers in New York jumped from 1.7% in October to 5.3% in November.
It’s not clear how many children on Long Island have tested positive for the virus. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association are working together to collect publicly available data from states.
But some of that data has limitations. For example, most recent reports note that New York did not provide age distribution for statewide cases other than those in New York City.
Officials from the state Health Department pointed to its dashboard of positive COVID-19 cases among school-aged children from 5 to 17. The most recent data showed 4,080 cases on Long Island since Sept. 1, out more than 420,000 students in 124 districts.
While most children who test positive for COVID-19 do not require hospitalization, doctors say they are ready for any new cases, having learned much since the pandemic caught them by surprise earlier this year.
Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, said she expects to see a rise in cases among children as the number of cases in adults continues to increase — following a pattern seen last spring.
“We are a step ahead of where we were in the spring when guidelines didn’t exist,” she said. “We kind of know what to look for, what to expect and how to treat it.”
For example, the FDA recently approved the drug remdesivir to treat COVID-19 in adults and some children 12 and older. Nachman said there is better guidance on how and when to use the drug with younger patients.
School buildings were shut for months at the start of the pandemic, but medical experts now believe children are less likely to be infected with the virus in an education setting where they are wearing masks, keeping their distance and cleaning protocols are followed.
“Schools have done tremendous work to try and make the learning environment very safe,” Schneider said.
On the other hand, he said organizing parties and gatherings at home and in the community with 20 or 30 people — children and adults — is “absolutely irresponsible.”
“We know for sure that is how [COVID-19] is spreading,” Schneider added. “It’s aggravating and angering when I hear of or see those types of events going on … people have to understand that their behavior has a huge impact on everyone else around them.”
Focused contact tracing and brief but targeted closures have allowed Long Island districts to remain open for much of the fall. Parents are notified of each new case, and, if necessary, ordered to quarantine children who have come in close contact with the staffer or student who tested positive. This method has reduced the number of days schools close, allowing in-person instruction to continue.
Johns said it’s vital that students, teachers and parents follow COVID-19 safety guidelines whether they are out in the community or in the classroom.
“We need to do as much as we can to keep our schools open,” she said. “It’s so important for our children’s development.”
Even though many children do not fall seriously ill, Nachman said it’s a mistake to underestimate the impact of COVID-19 on children, as some people have done.
“I think the first thing to remind them is that more children have died of COVID-19 this year than have died of flu in the past,” she said. “So when people don’t think these illness affect children, the answer is, ‘They do.’ “
Lisa joined Newsday as a staff writer in 2019. She previously worked at amNewYork, the New York Daily News and the Asbury Park Press covering politics, government and general assignment.