Why the number of COVID infections in children is rising in some states, but not in others

Children wear face masks while adults remain unmasked in Ohio. (Gaelen Morse/Reuters)

In many areas of the country, COVID-19 infections are on the rise, including among children. While children under 12 are not allowed to receive the COVID-19 vaccine anywhere in the US, certain states are seeing an increase in cases in this age group compared to other states.

dr. Ashish Kumar Jha, Dean of Brown University School of Public Health, has it all in one Twitter bytheyNS that has gone viral. “While vaccination rates for children under 12 are identical (0%) in all states, the number of infections is not,” he wrote. “In Massachusetts, about 250 children under the age of 10 were infected last week. In Florida there were about 9,000. In Louisiana there were about 1,600.”

“Florida had infected 12x as many children as Massachusetts last week,” he said continued. “And Louisiana? About 10X. So what’s going on? None of these kids have been vaccinated! So why are the infection rates so much lower in MA? Right, because kids are protected by adults.”

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson also urges parents to protect their children, noting that on Thursday 24 children in the state were hospitalized with COVID-19, and none were fully immunized, per KUAR, an NPR affiliate in Little Rock, Ark. Half of those hospitalized were under the age of 12 and are not yet eligible for vaccination.

“That makes the point that they need to be protected, first by decisions made by their parents, and then by school boards if they decide to take action in that regard,” Hutchinson said. The governor also urged the state legislature to consider amending or repealing a law passed earlier this year that prohibits the state and public school districts from imposing mask mandates.

“There’s actually data that indicates that getting vaccinated to some extent reduces the incidence of COVID in children,” said Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chief of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo in New York, told Yahoo Life. He cited a study published in the journal in June naturopathy which analyzed COVID-19 cases in all age groups in Israel as more people were vaccinated. (At the time, Israelis 16 and older were allowed to receive the vaccine.) For every 20 percent increase in the number of 16- to 50-year-olds vaccinated, the number of unvaccinated Israelis under 16 who tested positive for the vaccine increased. COVID-19 fell by half.

“If you vaccinate more people, you will reduce the number of cases, including the chance of cases in your household,” Russo says.

“If you have a population with a lot of unvaccinated people, COVID will be more common — it’s just at this point,” dr. Danelle Fisher, a pediatrician and chairman of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, told Yahoo Life. And, she points out, the Delta variant is also likely to be more widespread, as it currently accounts for more than 83.4 percent of the country’s new COVID-19 cases, according to data from the United States. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Delta is so much more contagious,” she says. “That’s why we’re now seeing more COVID-19 in children where we haven’t before — and the adults around them are helping to spread it.”

But “currently approved vaccines are effective against the Delta variant,” says Dr. Anand Sekaran |, medical director of hospital services at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. “Therefore, increased vaccination rates in a community correlate with reduced COVID-19 cases, in adults and children,” he continues. “Vaccination rates are extremely important to lower these cases.”

In addition to getting parents vaccinated, experts say there are a few extra things they can do to keep their kids safe. “If anyone in your house is 12 and older, get them vaccinated,” Russo says. “They will provide indirect protection to younger family members.” Sekaran also recommends that parents encourage careful hand hygiene in children and have them wear masks “if appropriate.” That includes indoor environments, large crowds, and when traveling, he says.

Russo says outdoor sports are “probably fine,” but urges parents to consider having their kids wear masks when going on indoor playdates. “Any time they have contact with other unvaccinated individuals, they should wear masks, especially in indoor environments,” he says.

Fisher says she’s been asked “a lot” by families about travel, and she urges parents to research the number of COVID-19 cases ahead of time. “I’m a little more comfortable with people traveling to areas where vaccination rates are high and COVID-19 cases low,” she says. “Traveling to Florida, a state that sees a lot of COVID … I would be much more careful than if someone were traveling to the Northeast, where there hasn’t been a major bump in it.”

Overall, experts are urging parents to remain vigilant in protecting their children from COVID-19. “We must not forget that these things led us to a first success,” says Sekaran.