Durham, N.C. — More children are testing positive for coronavirus in North Carolina, and the trend is especially notable in Durham County.
Statewide, 8 percent of the infections reported during the week of July 11 were in children 9 or younger, up from 5 percent a year earlier. Fifteen percent of infections during the recent week were in youths 14 or younger, up from 8 percent a year earlier.
But the spike in youth virus cases is even more troubling in Durham, where 16.5 percent of those infected during the past month were under age 12 – the highest percentage for that age group during the pandemic – and nearly a third of cases are among those 17 or younger.
Children 11 and younger account for 15.1 percent of coronavirus cases in Orange County since the beginning of June, officials said.
Dr. Tony Moody, a Duke University Health System pediatrician, said the increase isn't entirely unexpected because children under 12 aren't yet eligible to be vaccinated against the virus.
"With the dropping of some of the masking mandates and everything else, we’re just seeing a lot more people interacting more closely, and I think we’re seeing a rise in cases generally," he said. "The number [of youth infections] is higher than we would like. I don’t think it's necessarily disproportionate to what we think is going on, given everything else that’s happening."
"We do know that COVID-19 is an equal opportunity infector," agreed Rod Jenkins, Durham County's health director.
Jenkins said he expects vaccinations among those ages 12 to 17 will pick up in the coming weeks, as the start of traditional-calendar schools approaches.
"There’s a certain sense of procrastination, if you will," he said. "People know that school’s coming, and [think], 'Oh, I’ll get around to it.'"
Moody recommended that unvaccinated youths use masks indoors, especially in settings where they are exposed to a lot of people, and that parents model that behavior.
"I think it’s really hard to tell your 10-year-old, 'You need to mask, but I get to go free because I’m vaccinated,'" he said. "I would certainly want to encourage [a child] to be a kid – play outside. Being outside is probably one of the best things you can do."
Melanie Schrage said the youth virus numbers reinforce her desire that her two children, ages 8 and 6, get vaccine shots as soon as possible.
"I don’t think I could be more eager for them to get vaccinated," Schrage said. "We don’t really take our kids inside stores [or] restaurants. We do all outdoor activities."
Jenkins, who also has two children under age 11, said he also takes precautions with them.
"I always have the daddy cap on. I’m a little extra protective of my kids," he said. "My wife and I have not really released, you know, our kids to the community as it once was in 2018 [or] 2019."
Jenkins and Moody said children who can't yet get vaccinated will be more protected if everyone who is eligible gets their shots.
"You can’t go through life without having some degree of risk," Moody said. "It’s really about looking at what you can control and trying to work on that."