"We are now seeing about 16 to 18% of our cases being children."
Dr. Karim Kurji, York Region medical officer of health, says COVID-19 cases in children under 12 years old have "increased significantly" and he expects cases to continue to rise this fall.
In an interview with Narcity, the doctor stated that "we are now seeing about 16 to 18% of our cases being children."
"Initially, we were only getting around 10 cases a day, and then just recently we noticed a surge in the cases. In fact, the numbers are such that they are approximately the levels we saw on a daily basis during the first peak of the pandemic."
Kurji says they were looking at some 357 cases from July 30 to August 9 and 59 of those cases were in children under the age of 12.
Why Are Cases Rising In Children Under 12?
Children under 12 are not eligible for vaccination against COVID-19 yet and Kurjii stresses this reality while speaking about COVID-19 spread among children.
The doctor says the three main ways children are contracting COVID-19 infections are through unvaccinated adults within their households, local transmission and child care centres.
"However, we always emphasize 'which cases can we prevent?' and the ones we could have prevented are the ones that [...] children have acquired from a household context with an unimmunized."
"This is an opportunity for us to remind people that it isn't just themselves that they are protecting [with] vaccinations, but they are protecting others. Particularly those that are not eligible for vaccination yet, like children."
Will Cases Rise This Fall?
Kurji expects cases to continue to rise this fall as travel restrictions loosen and respiratory infections creep back in and lower people's resistance to COVID-19.
"You also get an indoor clustering of people during the fall or winter and usually less ventilation, if you might like to call it that. So these are all reasons why we would expect an increase."
"The other thing is, you have been seeing surges in many other countries and somehow it seems like we can't escape these surges for one reason or another. So that may be another reason why we can expect our numbers to keep increasing."
Kurji says they had hoped high levels of vaccination would cull case numbers but cases continue to climb in the unvaccinated population.
In York Region, 81.9% of residents over 12 years old have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 74.5% have received two doses.
How Will The Return To School Impact Cases?
Primary and secondary schools will be returning for in-person learning this fall and cases of COVID-19 are expected to grow within these areas.
"Overall, we normally see outbreaks increase both in the schools, then in workplaces as well, and also in long-term care homes and retirement homes. So it is inevitable, and we are already seeing signs of suspect outbreaks in some of these settings."
Kurji says they are comforted by the fact that schools have previously dealt with in-person learning when case counts were higher through public health measures, case contract management, and outbreak management.
Despite efforts to minimize risk, unvaccinated students over the age of 12 years old and those with unvaccinated family members or caregivers will be at greater risk while going back to school this year, says Kurji.
To combat this, Kurji says they are looking at ways to increase vaccination rates in individuals aged 12 to 17 by possibly bringing vaccination efforts to schools.
Kurji notes that vaccinated individuals can also spread the virus, "although most studies indicate that the infectiousness is shorter and less likely to infect. However, it will be difficult to know who is infectious and who isn't."
"So unvaccinated individuals could easily acquire it through that source as well. And then, unfortunately, they're likely to succumb, much more so, to serious illness."
While Kurji says children have been more resilient "with respect to suffering the consequences of COVID-19," generally, he says there have been cases of hospitalization for babies and toddlers.
"You are seeing quite large numbers of pediatric patients in the states now, so it's not inconceivable that that could happen. We hope it won't happen because of our greater proportion of vaccinated individuals."
To mitigate the risks of returning to school, Kurjii says, "the best way is really for parents and caregivers to be vaccinated."
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