Dr. James Fortenberry, chief medical officer at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, explains what parents should look out for as kids go back to school. USA TODAY
As students across the country return to classrooms, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the majority of children, teens and young adults who die from COVID-19 are Hispanic, Black or Native American.
Researchers found there was a staggering racial disparity in the more than 390,000 coronavirus cases and 121 deaths among people under the age of 21 reported to the CDC between Feb. 12 and July 31.
Hispanic, Black and Native American children accounted for 78% of those deaths even though those groups represent just 41% of the United States population, a disproportionate effect that reflects a similar disparity among adults. Previous research has shown that the death toll from COVID-19 is twice as high for people of color under the age of 65 as it is for white Americans.
“The findings did not surprise me at all,” Monika Goyal, a pediatric emergency medicine specialist at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., said. Goyal, who was not invovled in the CDC research, conducted a study published in the journal Pediatrics this month which found that among the 1,000 children tested for COVID-19 at a site in Washington in March and April, children of color were disproportionately represented in the 20% that tested positive.
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Underlying health conditions, including asthma, obesity and cardiac issues, were also a risk factor for children. The report found that 75% of the children who died had at least one underlying condition.
The report points to social disparities such as “crowded living conditions, food and housing insecurity, wealth and educational gaps, and racial discrimination” as factors that may have contributed to these racial inequities.
Researchers also noted that adults who are racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to be essential workers who are at higher risk for exposure to the coronavirus and may then transmit it to those in their household. The higher rates of adverse outcomes may also be tied to difficulty accessing health care services “because of lack of insurance, child care, transportation, or paid sick leave.”
“What COVID has done is really shone a spotlight on these long-standing health disparities that affect children and people of color in our society,” Goyal said. “I truly hope that this is a call to action, that we as a society come together to really try to mitigate these disparities by addressing those root causes.”
Study authors said young people who are racial or ethnic minorities or have underlying conditions and their caregivers would benefit from clear and consistent COVID-19 prevention messages. Goyal also emphasized wearing masks, limiting the risk of exposure and looking out for signs and symptoms.
Researchers also found that the majority of deaths occurred in older patients: 70% of those who died were between the ages of 10 and 20 while just 10% were infants under 1.
The majority of these deaths occurred after children were admitted to the hospital, but 32% of deaths occurred at home or in the emergency room.
Goyal said that while any death among youth is alarming, it’s important to note that “the risk of death is extremely low” for children who contract COVID-19. Americans under the age of 21 account for just .08% of the more than 190,000 deaths reported across the country.
“I do think that it’s important for the public to not panic,” she said. “Thankfully, the majority of children have a mild infection and recover.”
Study authors also noted that during the period the data was collected, the majority of early child care providers and schools were closed. As those institutions reopen, the number of pediatric deaths related to the coronavirus may change and should be monitored, they said.
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