Kids and COVID-19: Children's National Doctor Answers Top Questions

Dr. Roberta Debiasi of Children's National Hospital talks about coronavirus symptoms in kids and the importance of social distancing

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About 2% of the coronavirus cases in the United States have been diagnosed in children under the age of 18.

Fewer children than adults experience fever, cough, or shortness of breath when diagnosed with coronavirus and most children only have mild illnesses, according to the CDC. But for children with underlying health issues, the disease can be more severe, the CDC says.

Dr. Roberta Debiasi, division chief of infectious diseases at Children's National Hospital, told News4 what she's seeing in the area's only hospital focused just on kids.

Are you seeing more cases in kids than you expected and what kind of symptoms are children displaying?

We definitely are seeing more children than we expected hospitalized. I think we all expected to see kids with mild symptoms and we certainly are seeing that. We want parents to know that the vast majority of kids are having mild disease.

The mild kids will have runny nose, cough, congestion, some fever. Diarrhea is a pretty common symptom as well.

But we are surprised that we're having more hospitalized patients. We've had 160 kids that have come to Children's. About a quarter of them have needed to be hospitalized.

Do the children that have been infected so far have underlying conditions? What are they?

The children overall, about half have an underlying condition if you take all of the patients including those with mild disease.

When we get to the kids that are hospitalized it's more like 70%. We see all sorts of underlying conditions. The most common is asthma, in about 20% of our patients that have any kind of symptoms. The kids that are hospitalized we seem to be seeing more with underlying neurologic disorders, other things like cardiac conditions, obesity, diabetes, hematology disorders like sickle cell. So all sorts of different things.

What would you tell kids and parents about staying at home and maintaining social distancing?

Unfortunately, it's not time to go back out and back to our normal conditions yet. We've had over 34,000 cases in the region. It's still going up 5-7% a day.

We're definitely on the uphill part of the cases. We're not at a point where things have slowed down. And we really need to wait until things have slowed down and also when we have a little information about how much immunity there is as a whole in our community. And that should be coming in the next month.

What else do parents need to know?

I think the most important thing to know is that your child is more likely than not to have mild disease. But if there is severe disease, and things like shortness of breath are really an important thing for you to take them to your doctor to be seen. But we're ready at Children's Hospital to take care of any child that has COVID-19.

Some of Dr. Debiasi's responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

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