LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - As more children return to in-person learning, there is growing concern about a COVID variant that is spreading quickly across the country: B.1.1.7, a strain first identified in the United Kingdom.
B.1.1.7 is reportedly more contagious and possibly more deadly than previous COVID strains, and it is now infecting more children.
One of the nation’s top epidemiologists, Dr. Michael Osterholm, was on NBC’s Meet the Press talking about the challenges of this variant.
“It infects kids very readily,” Osterholm said on Meet the Press. “Unlike previous strains of the virus, we didn’t see children under 8th grade get infected often or they were not frequently very ill. They didn’t transmit to the rest of the community.”
According to CNN, Osterholm said that has changed and pointed to Minnesota where more than 740 schools have had cases of the U.K. variant. In Michigan, more and more young people are being hospitalized as cases arise.
Osterholm said he was re-evaluating his own recommendation to send kids back to in-person learning.
“These kids now are really major challenges in terms of how they transmit,” Osterholm said.
Dr. Kristina Bryant, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Norton Children’s Hospital and UofL, said what is known so far about the UK variant is certainly concerning.
“It seems to spread more easily and it’s spreading in children,” Bryant said. “We have some data that suggest in states where this variant is common, there have been big increases in COVID cases in kids.”
Bryant said she fears that if more kids are infected, more kids are going to at risk for severe complications.
“Complications, like multisystem inflammatory syndrome,” she said.
Multisystem inflammatory syndrome, also known as MIS-C, is a serious complication of COVID-19.
Salem, Indiana mother Elizabeth Waters knows all about MIS-C, unfortunately.
“We are all traumatized by the experience that we went through,” Waters said.
In November, her son Grant was diagnosed with MIS-C and hospitalized for nine days.
“My completely healthy six-year-old almost died,” Waters said.
Grant is doing much better now but, she worries since he’s back in the classroom. Waters is unsure of the long-term impact of MIS-C and hearing that B.1.1.7 is spreading quickly across the country in children makes her uneasy.
“Seeing people downplay it all day long is really frustrating for us,” Waters said.
Bryant added that she felt like it was safe to return to in-person learning if schools are fully following COVID precautions. She said getting kids vaccinated is crucial, though as of now, children younger than 16 haven’t been given the green light to do so.