Santa Cruz deputy health officer explains county’s increased pediatric COVID-19 rate – East Bay Times
SANTA CRUZ — The number of pediatric COVID-19 cases in Santa Cruz County is higher than the statewide figure — a stat that sounds intimidating, but it really isn’t. dr. David Ghilarducci, the county’s deputy health officer, explained that there are likely two factors contributing to the total: accessible, encouraged testing for children and a lower number of cases in adults.
“It may be unique to Santa Cruz. We have so many vaccinated adults, so the percentage of cases attributed to children is going to go up,” Ghilarducci said this week. “It’s a numerator/denominator situation.”
While those under the age of 18 account for 13% of all reported COVID-19 cases in California and 19% of all reported cases in Santa Cruz, in general, raw data should be looked at, the budding epidemiologist said. California is the most populous state in the US, so the numbers should be considered per capita.
“If you look at the chart, we’re in the bottom third (of the state) on a per capita basis,” Ghilarducci said, citing the most recent Children and COVID-19 report from the American Academy of pediatrics. “Children are often asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. All of these numbers probably represent the true number of pediatric cases; these are just the kids who happened to be tested.”
A year ago, testing was out of reach for most populations. Ghilarducci recalls that the tools were so scarce that they were only intended for healthcare and essential workers. Today, children are no longer excluded from the cohort.
It is possible that the resumption of personal education, sports and other activities contributes to the cumulative number of COVID-19 cases in children. However, children who play sports often have to get tested for the virus on a regular basis, which can detect more infections than would otherwise have been realized.
“As kids get back together, we’ll see more cases because of that. But we had a conference in San Francisco about the school reopening in the fall,” the doctor said Wednesday of a press event with several Bay Area health officials. “We feel like the data is piling up that kids are much less likely to get it in school than we thought.”
Vaccines lower risk
The good news is that the risk of serious illness from COVID-19 in children is minimal. Besides the fact that the symptoms are less frequent, only a small percentage of children experience a multisystem inflammatory response close to a month after infection. The reaction, given the acronym MIS-C, usually affects at least two organ systems, with the cardiovascular and renal systems being the most common.
“Maybe we had one such case in the past year that had to be transferred to a pediatric ICU,” Ghilarducci said. “There have been 25 deaths statewide and 322 deaths across the country, so it’s pretty small overall, but not completely harmless for some kids.”
Santa Cruz as a whole is prepared for children to become infected as a growing majority of parents and teachers are vaccinated. Most transmission occurs through household contact, Ghilarducci said, reflecting the county’s trend that household contact is the main source of transmission in all cases.
“Even if they took it home, if the parents are vaccinated they should be fine and if they brought it to school, if the teachers are vaccinated, they should be fine too,” he said. “Vaccines just change the whole picture of it all. We are lucky to have such a high vaccination coverage.”
There are parts of Santa Cruz County that are not prepared for any kind of infection, both adult and pediatric cases. Ghilarducci calls the areas “pockets of vulnerability” because while the county’s COVID-19 death rate has fallen a lot for vaccinated people, it remains just as high as it was in January for unvaccinated people. In Santa Cruz County, the zip codes with the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates remain as zip codes 95005 and 95006, sections of Ben Lomond and Boulder Creek, respectively.
Right now, vaccinating is an act of community service, he said.
“The risk will increase as we progress,” he said. “It is not always a matter of choosing people. They have health problems that hinder them or they are not in the right age group, such as children, but the vast majority of people (in the province) are eligible. The more vaccinated people who can get vaccinated, the better protection will be for those who can’t get vaccinated.”
It is not known when Moderna will be released for 12- to 15-year-olds, a prospect that has been much talked about in recent weeks. Ghilarducci said he and other health officials won’t get much of a warning until the public learns about new vaccine releases, but he knows that Moderna and Pfizer are both working on clinical trials on people as young as 12 years old.
“Sometimes it takes a little longer to collect data… and as the pandemic here subsides a little bit, the number of cases goes down and that makes it even more difficult because there aren’t that many diseases around,” he said. “We fully expect both of them to be approved for much younger children.”