COVID-19 variants of concern, such as B.1.1.7, have been mentioned more and more in the news lately, especially in relation to children. How concerned should we be?

Variants spread more quickly, but cases among children are much lower than in the fall

It’s true that we’re seeing signs that variants can spread more quickly through a network of people. The recent example we saw of a B.1.1.7 cluster in a childcare facility showed how widespread variants can become within one facility. Because of that rapid spread, we learned how important it is to get tested even when symptoms are mild (i.e. runny nose), so that we can stop outbreaks from spreading so quickly in the future.

However, it’s also true that cases are down among children compared to a few months ago. Cases among children were more than twice as high in October and November compared to now. Among 12-17 year olds, we were seeing 30 cases per day in the fall, and now are seeing 10 cases per day. All other child age groups are seeing less than 3 cases per day. You can see these trends, updated daily, on our Trends by Age page on our data dashboard.

Graph showing trends among children, pulled 4/23/21. All age groups <18 have a spike in fall and a much smaller increase in the spring of 2021

Some people might be surprised to hear about activities among children, like school, childcare, or sports, causing clusters. While the B.1.1.7 childcare cluster was significant due to its size and presence of variants, it was far from the only childcare-related cluster we’ve seen. We track outbreaks weekly in our data snapshots, and have tracked 72 childcare-related clusters since mid-September. And childcare sites aren’t alone—any activity that brings people close together, inside, and/or without masks can spread COVID. That’s why it’s important to continue to keep up basic precautions as we work to get more people vaccinated.

We don’t exactly know how increasing levels of variants will affect our community, but we can see from neighboring states that variants have the potential to increase cases more rapidly, which we also saw during our local childcare outbreak. (Thankfully, we haven’t detected any increases in severe outcomes among children.) Vaccines are looking to be effective against variants, so while we are working to rapidly vaccinate people, we all need to stay vigilant for just a little longer to prevent the rapid spread of variants in our community.

You can slow the spread of COVID—including COVID variants—by taking common precautions

The reality is that COVID cases have been increasing amongst almost all age groups between March and April, not just children. Every age group from age 8 to 59 saw a significant increase last month, which we presented in a recent data snapshot. (In our most recent snapshot, we started seeing a decrease in cases per day overall.) So precautions aren’t just needed for children—we need everyone to mask up, distance from people they don’t live with, and get vaccinated as soon as they are able.

Graph showing cases by age group during 3/15-3/28 compared to 3/29-4/11. Most ages are showing an increase in 3/29-4/11 compared to the earlier time period, with most cases occurring between ages 12 and 59.

If you’re an adult, these precautions lower your risk:

  • Get vaccinated. You being vaccinated protects the people around you who can’t be vaccinated, including people under 16 years of age. We know vaccines can have a huge impact on COVID spread—as evident from the graph above, even with variants circulating, our most vaccinated age group of 70+ year olds have very low COVID rates. You can easily book vaccine appointments on our website.

  • Use caution during activities. During social activities, work, or other activities, think about how you can reduce risk for you and the people you’re with. Ways to reduce risk include maintaining six feet of distance, wearing masks, and going outside if you will be gathering with others.

For children under 18, these precautions lower your risk:

  • Use caution during activities. Just like with adults, it’s important to reduce risk during children’s activities—in fact, it’s even more important since children under 16 can’t be vaccinated yet. If your child is involved in activities like sports, music, or other social activities, think about how you can reduce risk during those activities. Ways to reduce risk include maintaining six feet of distance, wearing masks, and going outside when gathering with others or playing sports.

  • Get vaccinated if you are 16 or 17. The Pfizer vaccine is authorized for 16 and 17 year olds. You can learn more about where to get vaccinated on our website.

  • Cut out carpooling. Kids carpooling to go to school, go to sports practice, get lunch, or hang out are likely in close contact and may spread COVID. We know of one example from a local high school where students were going off campus for lunch and eating together in the car, which caused COVID spread among those students. If your child is going to participate in sports or other activities, or goes to school in person, don’t carpool with other people if you can help it. If you must carpool, wear a mask and crack the windows to increase ventilation if possible.  

  • Cut out close contact before and after school, during sports, or via other activities. It’s important to take precautions during activities, and it’s just as important to keep up those precautions outside of activities. If a sports team masks up during games, but then hangs out together without precautions after the game, then COVID can still spread through that team.

The bottom line is that we all still need to take common-sense precautions and not let our guard down yet, especially children who can’t be vaccinated yet. Taking precautions like the above will cut down on COVID transmission and ensure that school, daycare, and sports can remain open and won’t drive COVID cases up in our communities.

This content is free for use with credit to the City of Madison - Public Health Madison & Dane County and a link back to the original post.