Coronavirus and kids: San Antonio epidemiologist breaks down risks, school safety

Catch KSAT Q&As live on the 6 p.m. news, nightbeat

How often do we see child cases of COVID-19, death and hospitalizations? Is it safe to return to school? A local epidemiologist answers these questions and more in latest KSAT Q&A.

SAN ANTONIO – With the reopening of school up in the air, many people are concerned about what the COVID-19 risks are for children.

Cherise Rohr-Allegrini, a local epidemiologist, says “they’re at risk. They don’t seem to get as sick but that doesn’t mean they don’t get sick at all. We’ve certainly seen some deaths in younger kids.”

In our KSAT Q&A session, she cited new research from Florida which shows that kids are getting infected at a fairly high rate. It says 31% of kids tested in the state were positive for COVID-19, compared to 11% of adults.

In Bexar County, according to the city’s website, people 19 years old and younger account for more than 14% of overall cases. While health experts have often said the virus may affect the elderly more seriously, cases of coronavirus in people age 60 and older account for less than 13 percent of local cases.

Rohr-Allegrini gave a comparison of how chickenpox affects children and adults differently.

“Kids get sick with chickenpox but it’s not usually deadly but if an adult gets it it’s much more severe. So we thought this might be similar,” Rohr-Allegrini said.

RELATED: How does COVID-19 affect kids? Science has answers and gaps

As of Monday, there have been 3,907 cases among children under 19 years old in Bexar County. Although the city’s website does not specify, Dr. Rohr-Allegrini says the majority of those cases are among children older than ten years old. She also says there is an increasing number of hospitalizations among children.

“You have diabetes, obesity, heart disease which makes it more severe but in kids, more than half of them do not have any underlying conditions. They’re otherwise healthy and they’re requiring hospitalizations. So that’s pretty scary.”

Dr. Rohr-Allegrini has been working with private schools and teachers unions since the start of the school shutdown to work on providing a safe plan for students to learn. While Bexar County hasn’t seen a large number of cases in children, she believes that could be in part because of the precautions taken thus far.

“That could also be because kids aren’t getting exposed outside the home. They’ve been in quarantine. They’ve been with their families,” she said.

Rohr-Allegrini said schools closing when the pandemic began might have helped slow the spread among school-aged kids. Therefore she says we need to be very cautious about reopening schools amid consistently rising cases, especially when schools do not have resources to ensure safety protocols.

“It’s really difficult for our public schools to create an environment that is going to allow for 6-foot distance between desks, for example.”

KSAT-TV EXTRA: Is it safe for students to return to the classroom? San Antonio doctor, teacher, counselor weigh in

Parents are grappling with a big decision this fall, whether to send their kids back to school at all. We talked to a San Antonio doctor, psychologist and teacher on whether it is safe both physically and mentally. They also break down important things to consider before making that choice.

About the Author:

Alyssa Medina is the Video-On-Demand Producer and has worked at KSAT since 2016. She creates exclusive content for the KSAT-TV streaming app. Some of her most notable contributions focus on race and culture or health and wellness. She's created the segments 'Creating Black History in S.A.' and 'New Week. New You."