Assessing COVID Risk for Kids

I’m going to lead off with the obvious: I’m not a doctor or a medical professional. I’m a librarian. I’m good at finding and evaluating information, but nothing in this post should be viewed as some sort of ironclad definitive statement when it comes to COVID risk for kids.

My main reason for posting this is that I’m the father of an 8-year-old, and I’m tired of vague statements floating around in the interwebs about “COVID isn’t as dangerous for kids, but it can still affect them.” My daughter can’t be vaccinated yet, but there’s a whole ton of things she’d like to do (and things we’d like to do as a family). Playing with friends. Going on trips. Heading to the store to go shopping. Mask mandates and usage are going down, and I recognize there are plenty of unvaccinated people who are going to be out and about not wearing masks.

What I really wanted to know is “how dangerous is it (really) for my daughter?” I understand that she might contract COVID. There are a whole ton of things that might happen to her in the course of any day. She could get eaten by a shark when we go to the beach. She could get struck by lightning. Where exactly does COVID rank in the order of “realistically dangerous”? Since I was already poking around online for the subject anyway, I thought I’d share what I came up with.

The CDC has a page that goes over some of this in a strange way. Using children age 5-17 as their reference group, they show how big of an impact COVID can have on different age groups in terms of hospitalizations and death. So looking at it, I can see that I’m 130 times as likely as my daughter to die from COVID. But that’s such a fuzzy number. I have a hard time wrapping my head around it in any meaningful way.

I tried to look for specific numbers from the CDC, but all I could find was this page that showed how many deaths occurred in children 0-17 years old. (As of this instant, 295 involving COVID. 1,152 if you include COVID and influenza and pneumonia.) That doesn’t seem like much. How many COVID cases have kids actually gotten?

The American Academy of Pediatrics answers that over here. 3.94 million. On the same page, it notes that kids were hospitalized in .1-1.9% of the cases. They died in 0.00-0.03% of their cases, which lines up with the CDC numbers I found. (0.03% of 3.94 million is 1,182, so if you attribute all influenza, pneumonia, and COVID cases as “potentially COVID,” then it’s about the same.)

I’m all about worst case scenarios. Let’s say that 1,152 number is all COVID (it isn’t), and let’s say all those deaths happened in a single year (they didn’t). How does that compare with other causes of death in children. (Talk about a chipper topic today . . .) I can’t find the data for 2020 yet, but here’s a study that details the leading causes of death for children in 2016.

  • 12,336 came from accidents
  • 4,074 came from car crashes
  • 3,143 came from firearms
  • 1,853 came from cancer
  • 1,430 came from suffocation
  • 995 came from drowning

So COVID deaths in American children rated (at worst) less likely than suffocating, and just a bit more likely than drowning. A more realistic view would put it much lower on the list. (Told you this was chipper.) But isn’t this line of argument the same thing that was criticized back in 2020 when people tried to downplay COVID as a whole? What exactly did the 2020 cause of death numbers end up at? Look no further. In the US, COVID was the third leading cause of death, below heart disease and cancer, but well above everything else. People trying to brush it off as No Big Deal would have to argue suicide, diabetes, Alzheimers, and strokes are NBD either.

Is COVID potentially dangerous? Yes, for children and adults. But it’s much more dangerous for adults. For kids, it’s around the same danger as drowning. And like drowning, that’s a danger that can be further reduced by taking a few basic steps. Avoid deep water. Learn how to swim. Don’t swim unsupervised. Water is a thing that’s familiar, and we know how to do things to make it safer. COVID’s getting to that point as well.

Mind you, this is just looking at deaths. It’s ignoring hospitalizations or long COVID, though the numbers for children in those areas are also much better than for adults. I heard someone say to treat unvaccinated children about the same as you’d treat vaccinated grandparents. The risk levels are about the same. So would I take MC to a huge indoor party, unmasked? Probably not. Would I be fine having her play with friends outside? That seems quite safe to me, as does smaller play dates inside.

COVID cases in the country and in our area continue to fall. I don’t think you have to treat everyone you see now as a potential carrier. In all likelihood, they don’t have it. As I’ve said before, for me fighting COVID was never about getting to 0 deaths. It was about keeping the curve low enough that our healthcare system wasn’t overwhelmed. And in most places in America, we did that. Unless cases begin to spike again for some unforeseen reason, I’m good with having my daughter return to normal in most aspects of her life.


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