INDIANAPOLIS — In just the first two months of this school year COVID-19 cases in K-12 students have already nearly passed the total case count from the entire 2020-2021 school year.
“Our numbers the last few months have been much, much higher than they were last year at the same time,” said Dr. John Christenson, the Medical Director of Infection Prevention at Riley Hospital for Children.
Since the beginning of this school year, 32,963 children have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Indiana public schools. It’s likely this number is even larger because there are still more than 400 Indiana schools not reporting to the ISDH.
“You just have so much more cases this year than this time last year,” said Micah Pollak, an Associate Professor of Economics at Indiana University Northwest.
Pollak also spends time examining trends in COVID-19 data and creating charts of what he sees. He pointed out the huge difference in COVID-19 cases between this year and last year on Twitter.
It’s important to note the ISDH did not begin tracking COVID cases in Indiana schools until Sept. 17, 2020, so there is roughly a month and a half of data missing. Still, the difference in numbers speaks for itself.
“It’s a reflection of what’s happening in the community with the delta variant,” said Christenson.
He and Pollak agree the main cause of the increased spread is the Delta variant. But, more schools being open with more kids in classrooms, along with less precautions compared to last year are also contributing factors.
“They did not implement the mitigation strategies because they thought things were more or less under control and obviously that’s not been shown to be the case,” Christenson said.
Pollak also pointed out hospitalization numbers are also up. According to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, 494 Indiana children have had to be hospitalized because of COVID-19 in the last two months. During the same time period last year, that number was only 146.
Christenson said this backs up what he is seeing at Riley Children’s Hospital.
“It varies between 11-20 children a day with COVID,” he said. “When you look at the same time last year there were maybe five.”
Pollak said the numbers are now on a downward trend but he’s worried about pediatric hospital beds if we see another surge in the winter.
“We’ve had 500 kids hospitalized since August, so where are you going to put those kids? And what about the kids that have RSV and need to be hospitalized? And then you’re going to end up with a real crunch,” Pollak said.
A vast majority of these kids will recover, but Christenson said they are seeing kids suffer from long lasting effects.
“A few children have been coming to our clinics with long term complaints,” he said. “Specifically fatigue, muscle aches and tiredness.”
So far, only 16 Indiana children have died because of COVID-19. But, as Pollak points out, eight of those deaths have been since the middle of July.
“You might get somebody that says, ‘Well they’re going to have a mild case and only a few kids will die,’ but I only have a few kids and I don’t want to lose any kids,” Pollak said.
Tracking the K-12 COVID data is personal for Pollak. He has a child who just started kindergarten this semester.
“It’s just a matter of time until she gets exposed and infected,” Pollak said. “That is almost a statistical certainty, the only question that remains is will it happen before or after she is able to get vaccinated.”
Christenson said the most striking part of seeing kids in the hospital with COVID-19 is the children who are 12 and older and have not been vaccinated.
“You have a representation of older children, over 12, who could have been vaccinated and all of the ones that I have looked at through the last few months have been unvaccinated,” Christenson said.
Christenson said the best way to keep COVID-19 out of schools is to make sure everyone in and around the classroom is vaccinated.
“All teachers should be vaccinated, all staff members that work in the school should be vaccinated, the parents at home should be vaccinated,” he said.
Christenson and Pollak are both looking forward to FDA approval of a COVID-19 vaccine for kids 5 to 11. According to the AP, Pfizer said its vaccine works in children 5-11 on Sept. 20 and it will seek emergency approval soon.