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COVID Cases Among Kids On The Rise in N.H.

Sarah Gibson for NHPR

COVID-19 cases among school-age children in New Hampshire are on the rise, with kids under the age of nineteen now making up a quarter of new daily cases.

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Cases among Granite Staters of all age groups under 70 have increased over the past month, but the increase is most noticeable among young people. This follows national trends, and is believed to be in part because spread among older adults is slowing as more become vaccinated.

As of Wednesday, the state's weekly average of new daily cases was around 450. The weekly average of new cases among kids was around 115 a day, close to the level it was during the COVID-19 surge in December.

The increase comes as schools across the state prepare to reopen fully next week to meet Governor Sununu’s deadline, but health officials and doctors say the spread should not slow reopening plans.   

“We’ve been pretty darn successful,” says Dr. Erik Shessler, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock and president of the New Hampshire Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Shessler points to scientific studies indicating that so far, transmission of the virus is minimal within schools.

“Where we’re getting most of the spread when you take a look at this on the kids’ side is families and different gatherings; for example, sleepovers, parties, sporting events – things on those lines that are on the periphery of the school, as opposed to in the school,” he says.

As NHPR has reported, the state health department’s data in New Hampshire does not reflect all the clusters identified in school districts nor the full number of cases among school children. However, state officials say schools have proven to be safe for children and have not contributed to community spread.

With more students returning to classrooms for full-time school next week, some schools are struggling to maintain three feet of social distancing in the building and on buses. But Dr. Shessler says other mitigation strategies – such as proper mask wearing and good hygiene – are more important than exact measurements between students.  

Credit Graphics by Sara Plourde/NHPR
NHPR's COVID & The Classroom is a reporting project looking at the effects of the pandemic on New Hampshire's students, parents, teachers, and schools.

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“We want to make sure they’re holding on to other risk reduction strategies and then making sure we're following the data closely,” he says.

COVID symptoms among children tend to be milder than in adults, though there are some exceptions. At the start of this week, one pediatric patient with COVID-19 was hospitalized in New Hampshire.

And since the pandemic began, there have been a handful of cases identified in the state of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), a rare complication from COVID-19. 

Shessler says going to school outweighs the risks of COVID-19 for most children, but parents should keep their kids home when sick.

“If we can avoid people who are symptomatic being in schools, we make a big difference,” he says.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.
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