COVID-19 has never been more prevalent among the county’s youngest residents than it was in August.
COVID tests results recorded by the Galveston County Health District last month identified 1,382 cases of the virus in children younger than age 12. About 29 percent of all under-12 cases identified during the pandemic were identified last month. August accounted for 75 percent of all under-12 COVID cases in 2021.
The numbers emphasize a difference in the delta variant: It’s infecting more younger people than earlier strains of the virus, and those people often are too young to be vaccinated.
Officials say the spike in cases shows how the virus has changed and that it should be taken seriously. They warn that although most infected children don’t require hospitalization, those who do get extremely ill and advise parents to seek treatment as soon as a child exhibits symptoms.
Galveston resident Michelle Davis said her 5-year-old daughter, Ettison, tested positive for the virus Saturday. Davis suspected Ettison contracted the virus in a kindergarten classroom.
Davis, who works at the University of Texas Medical Branch, said it was frightening for her child to test positive, even knowing that, in most cases, children survive and recover from their infections.
“It was scary,” Davis said. “I know the statistics. I know that kids don’t typically have it horribly. She’s a very healthy girl and doesn’t have any underlying health conditions. But it’s still scary. She’s 5, and I didn’t want her to have to go through this.”
Ettison, Davis and her partner are staying home alone for a 10-day quarantine, after which Ettison will return to her kindergarten class.
Davis supports vaccines, masks and other protection measures, she said. But she hoped the pandemic-tinged start to her grade-school years wouldn’t leave lasting effects on her daughter.
“What upsets me is that these are going to be her earliest memories: wearing a mask at school, being quarantined at home, having to do class on a computer,” Davis said. “How much of this is going to affect her down the road?”
The rise in cases in children can be attributed to the way the virus has changed over the past year, said Dr. Leticia Castillo, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
Early on in the pandemic, when children tested positive, they generally were asymptomatic, Castillo said. They were capable of spreading the virus but generally weren’t getting sick themselves. Later, some children began having symptoms different than adults. COVID was causing inflammation of hearts and organs, Castillo said.
Now, children are showing up with more classic COVID symptoms, she said. Those classic symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath
The recent surge in cases in young people has led to a similar increase in hospitalizations in young people.
In August, 192 people younger than 18 were admitted to University of Texas Medical Branch hospitals in Galveston, League City, Webster and Alvin. It’s by far the highest number of admissions during the pandemic. The previous high was 74 children admitted in January.
Still, pediatric hospitalizations for COVID statistically are rare.
Only about 1 percent of COVID hospitalizations of county residents have been people younger than 10, according to the health district.
No Galveston County residents younger than 20 have died after being infected.
The 192 pediatric COVID admissions at the medical branch last month represented just 6 percent of the total number of positive COVID tests in that age group recorded at the medical branch.
The young people who do end up in the hospital are very sick, however, Castillo said.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Castillo said. “These patients are critically ill. They are sedated and we try to keep them as comfortable as we can. But it’s hard for children to be in the hospital. It’s hard for the parents to have their children in the hospital.
“They have their lives ahead of them,” she said. “So you don’t want anything to happen to them.”
Parents should take a child’s infection seriously and seek treatment at the earliest sign of symptoms, Castillo said.
“For anybody that has presentations of COVID, there are treatments that can be given, that can improve their condition,” Castillo said. “They should not wait until they cannot breathe.”