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Nov. 29, 2021

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COVID infection rates slowing among kids in Washington, but new reports show they’re still at record highs

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COVID-19 infection rates are dropping among children and teens in Washington, though a new report shows rates remain higher now than at any point before the country’s summer surge of delta cases.

Case rates among youth under 19 averaged about 425.8 infections per 100,000 people between Oct. 10 and 24, according to state Department of Health data. In September, the state estimated a 14-day average of more than 600 cases per 100,000, according to DOH data.

“Compared to where we were, before our summertime surge with delta, cases today remain three times higher, hospitalizations two times higher and deaths three to six times higher,” county health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said in a Thursday briefing. “So although we’re coming down from that serious surge, we’re still much higher with respect to cases, hospitalizations and deaths.”

Rates are declining as pediatric vaccines flow into the state this week, with more than 300,000 doses expected to arrive at Washington health care systems and pharmacies over the next few weeks.

The state generally analyzes youth data based on its educational service districts, which oversee dozens of school districts and private schools across different counties. The Puget Sound Educational Service District, for example, serves 35 school districts, 272 private schools, seven charter schools and two tribal compact schools in King and Pierce counties.

In mid-October, the state’s North Central Educational Service District — which covers 29 school districts in Chelan, Douglas, Grant and Okanogan counties — saw the highest rates of infection with about 637.7 cases per 100,000 children and teens.

Rates were also high at about 613.3 infections per 100,000 in the Northeast Washington Educational School District — which serves 59 school districts in Adams, Ferry, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens and Whitman counties.

In Western Washington, the Puget Sound Educational Service District counted about 316.8 infections per 100,000 in mid-October, the lowest rate in the state.

Statewide, middle schoolers — kids between 11 and 13 years old — are being infected at the highest rates, reporting about 506.6 cases per 100,000. Rates for high schoolers and elementary-age kids, meanwhile, fall between 474 and 436 cases per 100,000.

The case rates and counts represent cases within the region served by an educational school district and are based on the child’s home address.

The youth rates are much lower compared to those in August and September, during the wave of the infectious delta variant — trends that are reflected locally.

In King County, rates have dropped gradually among kids under 17 since the school year began, according to the county’s youth infection dashboard. Since Sept. 1, there’s been a 44% decrease in infection rates for 16- to 17-year-olds; a 10% decrease for 12- to 15-year-olds; and a 26% decrease for 5- to 11-year-olds.

Still, youth infection rates remain much higher than at any point in the pandemic before the delta wave.

The 14-day case rate for those under 19 is more than 400 cases per 100,000 kids, while peak rates during past surges were below that, with estimates around 300 infections per 100,000, according to this week’s DOH report.

“Community transmission remains high,” Duchin said Thursday. “… It’s just not clear right now whether our outbreak is stabilizing at a relatively high level, whether cases will further drop or whether they will rise in the coming weeks.”

Pediatric vaccines, landing in the state this week, will help, he said, though initial delays in supply are expected.

While Public Health — Seattle & King County doesn’t currently have appointments available for children between 5 and 11, Duchin said families can join the county’s waitlist and will be notified once appointments open up at community health centers, health care providers and pharmacies later this week.

He estimated about 48,000 of 180,000 kids in King County would receive their first vaccine shot within the first week or so, and called it a “temporary problem.”

While supply is limited in the first few weeks, no specific groups of kids are being prioritized for shots, he added.

“It’s very hard to predict which children are going to have severe cases of COVID,” Duchin said. “We do know clearly there are some risk factors that are known — obesity and other prior diseases. But a third of children who have severe COVID are otherwise healthy.”

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