COVID-19 cases spiking in school-aged children, particularly in lower-vaccination areas: B.C. health officials
B.C. has recorded a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases among school-aged children, particularly in areas of the province with lower vaccination rates.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry highlighted the spike in infections during a modelling presentation Tuesday, revealing there were 1,086 cases involving people under the age of 18 in the week ending on Sept. 23.
Of those cases, 658, or about 61 per cent, involved children between the ages of five and 11. There were 261 cases involving youths between the ages of 12 and 17, and 167 involving children under the age of five.
"We have seen an increase in numbers of children in each of those age groups who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last week compared to what we have seen over the course of the pandemic," Henry said.
But officials stressed that child hospitalizations have remained low, with just four people under the age of 18 being hospitalized over that same period. Only one of them, who was under the age of five, was admitted to critical care.
There were no deaths in any of those age groups, though Henry noted that one infant and one toddler died from COVID-19 last year.
"We've not seen any deaths in school-aged children, and we hope that will continue," she added.
The return to in-classroom learning this month has been a concern to many parents in the province, particularly as the highly contagious Delta variant dominates cases and as children under the age of 12 remain ineligible for vaccination.
On Monday night, the Vancouver School Board unanimously voted to implement its own mandatory masking policy for students in kindergarten through Grade 3, complimenting the provincial mask requirement for older students.
“There has been a lot of stress per the letters that we've been receiving, from parents of students who when the students come home they're faced with vulnerable family members as well,” trustee Allan Wong said at the vote.
Henry did not provide a breakdown Tuesday of the settings where children have been getting sick, but did share data showing the numbers were already beginning to increase rapidly in areas of lower vaccination prior to the start of the school year, particularly in the Northern Health and Interior Health regions.
"This reflects the vaccination rates in those communities and the fact that we were seeing (higher) transmission rates in those communities," Henry said. "And that of course affects families and affects children, and that has been translated to children in school settings as well."
Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases among children remained much lower in areas of high vaccination rates, such as the Vancouver Coastal Health and Island Health regions.
In the Fraser Health region, Henry said most of the children testing positive in the five to 11 age range live in eastern communities that have lower immunization rates.
Case numbers in the Fraser East local health area, which includes Chilliwack, Hope, Abbotsford, Mission and Agassiz, also prompted officials to impose new regional restrictions Tuesday, similar to those still in place in Northern Health and Interior Health.
Henry did note that school-aged children who catch COVID-19 are more likely to come from families where adults are not immunized. She also pointed to the measures currently in place to prevent on-site transmission in schools, including masking for older students and B.C.'s revamped cohort system.
"The most important thing we can do to protect our schools until we have vaccination for all school-aged children – and we're preparing for that s soon as we can – is to make sure that all of the adults and the older children in those settings are (vaccinated)," Henry said.