DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- While children, for the most part, are spared the devastating effects of severe COVID-19, thousands across North Carolina have tested positive for the virus so far.
As of November 28, 39,713 children under the age of 18 have tested positive for COVID-19 since March, 11% of all cases in North Carolina. That includes 3,552 children under 1 year old, 4,450 children between 2 and 4 years old, 8,605 children between 5 and 9 years old, 12,020 children between 10 and 14 years old, and 11,086 children between 15 and 17 years old.
Dr. Ibukun Akinboyo is the medical director of Pediatric Infection Prevention at Duke University, and she has been treating childhood COVID-19 patients for months.
"Children can get infected, and as we've seen community rates rise, we have seen a larger number of children get infected," Akinboyo said.
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In June and July, children accounted for between 10 and 16% of all cases. While that percentage shrank as cases waned in August and October, the percentage of COVID-19 cases in children is rising again.
Fortunately, Akinboyo said most children have few, if any symptoms and recover quickly. Many childhood cases, particularly among infants and toddlers, are captured because an entire family has to be tested after an exposure.
"You may not even notice that they have something out of the ordinary," Akinboyo said.
But Akinboyo added that while most children appear to have very mild symptoms, some do tend to have severe illness and might require a hospital stay, even intubation. Most of these patients, she said, are medically fragile already due to a genetic issue or another chronic condition that suppresses their immune system or makes them require additional oxygen.
In November, 52 children under 18 were admitted to North Carolina hospitals with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis.
"I think it's good that children have surprised us through the pandemic and have handled infections relatively well," Akinboyo said "That doesn't mean there aren't some small proportions or small groups that may have some long term symptoms."
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Unfortunately, one child has died from COVID-19 in North Carolina: 8-year-old Aurea Soto Morales.
"When we see death amongst this group, it has been significantly affecting our underserved groups," Akinboyo said.
Like in adults, Akinboyo said, a disproportionate number of children from historically marginalized communities have tested positive for COVID-19 and have gotten severe illnesses.
"There are a number of reasons for this," Akinboyo said. "It's not always just something to do with their medical history, it also has to do with the communities and the access to resources and all of our structural inequities that exist in our society."
And while she is optimistic that vaccine manufacturers will soon include children younger than 12 years old in their clinical trials, Akinboyo said the best way to protect the youngest among us is to closely follow the 3 W's: wearing a mask, washing hands, and staying six feet apart.
"The goal has always been to make sure we have a bubble around our youngest kids who might not be able to stay masked and for the most part, they need to be picked up or carried around," Akinboyo said. "I just want to reiterate, the point is we should continue to promote prevention, washing hands and masking, all of those around younger kids who may not be able to wear a mask."
If a child tests positive, Akinboyo said it's okay for parents to treat them and take care of them, as long as they wear a mask and adhere to strict quarantine measures while their child isolates.
"The key thing is isolation," Akinboyo said. "Making sure the child is isolated from anyone outside the household so there is no additional spread."
Akinboyo hopes that as more children get tested for COVID-19, researchers will be able to collect data on their cases and find out more about long-term symptoms and severe illness in the population.
Thousands of infants, toddlers among more than 39,000 NC children who have tested positive for COVID-19
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