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Most Children Who Die Of COVID-19 Are Minorities, CDC Report Shows

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

The majority of children dying from COVID-19 are children of color. That's according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that reveals dramatic disparities in the illness among children. NPR's Patti Neighmond reports.

PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: Researchers found more than 390,000 cases and 121 deaths among young people under 21 years old between February and July of this year. Seventy-eight percent of the children who died were Black, Hispanic or Native American. Pediatric infectious disease specialist Tina Tan with the Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.

TINA TAN: This really is something that we've known since children have started to get fairly sick with COVID.

NEIGHMOND: And while most children have mild symptoms, some don't. Tan says the staggering disparity between ethnic minorities and whites reflects disproportionate medical conditions that puts both adults and children of color at greater risk of complications from coronavirus - things like asthma, obesity and heart conditions. Three-quarters of the children who died had underlying conditions. Most were between 10 and 20 years old. The report also points to social disparities that puts communities of color at greater risk.

TAN: Households that are very crowded. Parents are generally essential workers that usually have to take public transportation to work, so they are exposed more frequently to COVID than other individuals.

NEIGHMOND: And access to health care can be difficult, all adding up to greater vulnerability for children of color.

TAN: It's just really important that this is on people's radar.

NEIGHMOND: Parents shouldn't panic, says Tan, but they should be vigilant with their children about wearing masks, physical distancing and lots of hand-washing, especially if their child is attending in-person school. Infectious disease specialist Preeti Malani with the University of Michigan says the big takeaway from the study is this.

PREETI MALANI: If your child is sick and you don't feel like they're doing well - is to not wait and to make sure that they are seen.

NEIGHMOND: By a doctor or at the hospital.

MALANI: A child, especially with something like this, which is a respiratory infection, could go from having something that's very mild to becoming quite ill quickly.

NEIGHMOND: CDC officials say children and teens exposed to COVID-19 should be closely monitored for complications, even though symptoms associated with the infection are more mild in children, compared with adults.

Patti Neighmond, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIRK MAASSEN'S "SINAAI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.