One in four COVID-19 cases is occurring in children as schools reopen across the country, a prominent medical organization said Wednesday, as President Biden prepared a six-pronged plan to fight a virus surge upending economic recovery plans.
The American Academy of Pediatrics said the 250,000-plus cases in children accounted for a quarter of U.S. cases during the week ending Sept. 2, compared to 8,400 in a similar report in June. It was also the first time reported infections in children passed the quarter-million mark in a given week.
“After declining in early summer, child cases have increased exponentially, with over 750,000 cases added between August 5 and September 2,” the academy said in its report.
From Aug. 19 to Sept. 2, there was a 10% cumulative increase in child cases since the pandemic began, underscoring the country’s plight in dealing with the fast-moving delta variant.
How to protect schools will be a critical plank of the six-step plan Mr. Biden will detail in a major White House speech on Thursday.
Other topics will include vaccine mandates in the public and private sectors and ways to increase testing, according to the White House, along with a recap of steps Mr. Biden took earlier in his term.
“We have more work to do, and we are still at war with the virus and the delta variant,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
Ms. Psaki said the issue is “front-of-mind” for many Americans because kids are going back to school or returning to physical offices after summer vacations.
“So he’s going to outline the next phase in the fight against the virus and what that looks like,” Ms. Psaki said. “Requiring more vaccinations, boosting important testing measures and more, making it safer for kids to go to school — all at a time when the American people are listening.”
COVID-19 infections in children tend to be less severe than in older Americans, although not in all cases.
Children accounted for 1.6%-4.1% of all of their coronavirus hospitalizations in the 24 states that report to the academy, and 0.1%-1.9% of all their child COVID-19 cases resulted in hospitalization.
The surge is challenging efforts by the Biden administration and governors to reopen schools. Federal officials insist it can be done under the right conditions.
“We’ve got to get the school system masked in addition to surrounding the children with vaccinated people. That’s the solution,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN on Tuesday.
The pace of vaccination has picked up in recent weeks amid fears of the delta variant and employer mandates, though the vaccination rate is rising slowly. Only 53% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated but roughly 63% have received an initial dose and most people complete their vaccination course.
U.S. hospitalizations are at their worst level since early February but have eased a bit in recent days, dipping below 100,000 again.
The worst outbreaks right now are in Southern states with vaccination rates at or below the national average, though that may change heading into the fall and winter if 2020 patterns repeat and vaccination levels aren’t high enough to shield the Northeast and other places.
Terri Gurganious told ABC News that her 11-year-old, Brennah, got COVID-19 days after returning to her Texas classroom and had to go on a ventilator.
“Her lungs were going through hell,” Ms. Gurganious said. “They’ve been doing breathing treatments on her every four hours and then they suction her lungs out at the same time.”
Mr. Biden already mandated the federal workforce to get vaccinated or face regular testing, though Ms. Psaki suggested the president will announce new steps that lean on the private sector to push mandates.
Ms. Psaki said Mr. Biden will “absolutely” be announcing new steps, not just repackaging old ones, and hinted the measures could impact people’s day-to-day lives.
“It depends on if you’re vaccinated or not,” she said.
Republican governors such as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have resisted federal pleas to mandate masks in schools. They say it should be up to parents to decide whether to cover their kids’ faces and have tangled in court with school districts.
Second Circuit Judge John Cooper on Wednesday ruled against an appeal from Mr. DeSantis, effectively allowing Florida schools to mandate masks without fear of state reprisals for now.