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As in Adults, Minority Kids Hit Hardest by COVID-19

FRIDAY, Aug. 7, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. minorities have been particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, and a new study suggests kids are no exception.

Researchers found that at one community testing site, nearly half of Hispanic children and teens were positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The same was true of 30% of Black kids.

The rate among white kids hovered around 7%.

At this point, racial disparities in the U.S. pandemic are well-documented -- at least among adults.

"But those adults also live with children," said lead researcher Dr. Monika Goyal.

Her team's findings -- published online Aug. 5 in Pediatrics -- offer a glimpse at how the pandemic is disproportionately affecting kids and teens, as well.

What the study cannot discern is why, said Goyal, a pediatric emergency specialist at Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C. But there are probably several reasons, she added.

Experts have pointed to a number of explanations for the racial disparities among adults: Many Black and Hispanic Americans are essential workers and cannot stay at home; they are more reliant on public transportation; and they often live in crowded housing, which can fuel COVID-19 transmission among family members.

And then there are the inequities in access to health care, including testing for the new coronavirus.

"COVID has really shined a light on many long-standing disparities in the U.S.," Goyal said.

Dr. Lawrence Kleinman, a pediatrician and chief of population health, quality and implementation science at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, N.J., said, "The virus doesn't discriminate -- it's the social conditions."

Kleinman, whose own research has focused on COVID-19's impact on kids, said the new findings are not surprising.

"They're consistent with everything we've seen during the pandemic," he said.

The new study included 1,000 young people, from infants through age 22 -- the large majority (87%) being under 18. All were referred to a free testing site affiliated with Children's National, because they had mild symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 and met certain other criteria -- like known exposure to the virus.

That means the percentages of positive results do not reflect what was happening in the general community.

"You don't know how far you can generalize these findings," Kleinman said.

In addition, the tests were done in March and April, the early days of the U.S. pandemic. The rates now could be different, he noted.

But the bottom line is that disparities exist, Kleinman said, and "there is no reason to believe" that inequities seen earlier in the pandemic have gone away.

According to Kleinman, it all raises more questions around the contentious issue of reopening schools.

If Black and Hispanic children are more likely to be positive for the coronavirus, he said, does that mean the schools that serve them will be riskier places?

"We started out with this myth that children are somehow exempted from COVID," Kleinman said. But while kids are much less likely to fall seriously ill than adults are, it does happen -- and, Kleinman said, they do spread the disease.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported on an outbreak at a Georgia sleep-away camp, where 260 children and staff tested positive for the virus.

Goyal stressed, however, that parents should not avoid pediatrician appointments out of fear of exposure to sick kids, especially ahead of school reopenings and flu season. She said that children should have their routine check-ups and be up-to-date on vaccinations.

The social issues that the pandemic has highlighted are what ultimately need to be addressed, Kleinman said. But in the immediate term, he emphasized the importance of curbing the risk of coronavirus transmission by maintaining physical distance, frequent hand-washing and wearing masks in public settings.

Good ventilation indoors, including schools, is also key, Kleinman pointed out. That can include keeping windows open, when safe, and using air filtration systems whenever possible.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19 and children.

SOURCES: Monika Goyal, MD, associate division chief, emergency medicine, Children's National Hospital, Washington, D.C.; Lawrence Kleinman, MD, MPH, professor and vice chairman, academic development, and chief, division of population health, quality and implementation science, department of pediatrics, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick, N.J.; Pediatrics, Aug. 5, 2020, online

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