Dr. James Fortenberry, chief physician at Children̵
As students across the country return to classrooms, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the majority of children, teens, and young adults who die from COVID-19 are Hispanic, black, or Native American.
Researchers found that there was a staggering racial difference in the more than 390,000 cases of coronavirus and 121 deaths among people under the age of 21 reported to the CDC between February 12 and July 31.
Hispanics, blacks, and Native American children accounted for 78% of these deaths, although these groups represent only 41% of the U.S. population, a disproportionate effect that reflects a similar difference among adults. Previous studies have shown that the number of deaths from COVID-19 is twice as high for people of color under 65 as for white Americans.
“The results did not surprise me at all,” said Monika Goyal, a specialist in pediatric emergency medicine at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC. Goyal, who was not involved in the CDC research, conducted a study published in the journal Pediatrics this month, which showed that among the 1,000 children tested for COVID-19 at a location in Washington in March and April, colored children were disproportionately represented in the 20% who tested positive.
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Underlying health conditions, including asthma, obesity and heart problems, were also a risk factor for children. The report showed that 75% of the dead children had at least one underlying condition.
The report points to social disparities such as “overcrowded living conditions, food and housing insecurity, wealth and educational gaps and racial discrimination” as factors that may have contributed to these racial inequalities.
Researchers also noted that adults who are racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to be important workers who are at greater risk of exposure to coronavirus and can then transmit it to those in their household. The higher side effects may also be linked to difficulties in accessing health care “due to lack of insurance, childcare, transport or paid sick leave.”
“What COVID has done really cut a focus on these long-standing health inequalities that affect children and the colored in our society,” Goyal said. “I really hope this is a call to action that we as a society meet to really try to bridge these differences by tackling these root causes.”
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Study authors said that young people who are racial or ethnic minorities or have underlying conditions and that their carers would benefit from clear and consistent COVID-19 prevention messages. Goyal also emphasized wearing masks, which limited the risk of exposure and paid attention to signs and symptoms.
Researchers also found that the majority of deaths occurred in elderly patients: 70% of those who died were between 10 and 20 years old, while only 10% were infants under 1 year of age.
The majority of these deaths occurred after hospitalization of children, but 32% of the deaths occurred at home or in the emergency room.
Goyal said that although any death among adolescents is alarming, it is important to note that “the risk of death is extremely low” for children receiving COVID-19. Americans under the age of 21 account for only 0.08% of the reported more than 190,000 deaths across the country.
“I think it’s important for the public not to panic,” she said. “Fortunately, the majority of children have a mild infection and recover.”
Study authors also noted that by the time the data were collected, the majority of early child care providers and schools were closed. As these institutions reopen, the number of pediatric deaths related to coronavirus could change and should be monitored, they said.
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