Virginia reports first coronavirus death of a child under 10

(Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Department of Health announced Thursday that a child in central Virginia died from COVID-19-related complications.

It’s the state’s first COVID-19 death of a child under the age of 10.

In September, the department reported that “an adolescent resident in the Southside Health District” — which includes Boydton, Lawrenceville, and Halifax — died after testing positive for the virus. VDH listed that patient’s age as between 10 and 19.

At the time, it was the state’s youngest COVID-19 death.

The department declined to provide additional information about the death reported Thursday “to protect privacy and out of respect for the patient’s family,” according to a news release.

But officials disclosed that the death resulted from COVID-19 and “complications of a chronic health condition.”

“Our heartfelt condolences are extended to the family and friends of this child,” State Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver said in a statement. “While fewer cases of COVID-19 are reported in children compared with adults, children are not immune to the disease.”

Across the U.S., there have been more than 80 COVID-19 deaths among children under 5 years old and more than 180 COVID-19 deaths among children 5 to 17 years old, Oliver said. In Virginia, they make up a tiny portion of the state’s more than 9,000 deaths.

Only one death has been reported in a resident under the age of 10. There have been two deaths reported among residents between the ages of 10 and 19, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health.

Older residents are still disproportionately represented among the state’s fatalities. A total of 4,562 Virginians aged 80 or above have died from COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic — nearly half of the state’s recorded deaths. Another 2,443 deaths are recorded among people between the ages of 70 and 79.

Virginians between the ages of 20 and 69 constitute 2,331 deaths.

National data from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that “severe illness due to COVID-19 is rare among children.” But hospitalizations and deaths aren’t unheard of and can be exacerbated by pre-existing conditions, just like adults who contract the virus.

The AAP also warned that there’s an “urgent need” to collect more data on how children have been impacted by the pandemic, including “ways the virus may harm the long-term physical health of infected children.” Virginia has reported 37 cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C — a relatively rare condition that can affect children after being infected or exposed to COVID-19.

The disease can cause inflammation in various body parts, including the heart, lungs, kidneys and brain, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National data shows that the majority of MIS-C patients have been Latino and Black. Virginia does not currently provide additional demographic information on MIS-C patients, including the age, race or ethnicity of patients.

There’s also been concern that variant forms of the virus can more easily infect children. VDH has reported cases of the UK variant, or B.1.1.7, in four out of five regions across the state. There have also been at least two reported cases of the South African variant, B.1.351, since mid-February. One state lawmaker cited the strains in arguments against a bill to mandate in-person instruction, saying they could increase the risk of transmission in schools.

While there’s been a national increase of COVID-19 cases among children, health experts say there’s no clear evidence that variants are more likely to infect them — or cause more severe disease among any age group.

“There is no convincing evidence that any of the variants have special propensity to infect or cause disease in children,” Dr. Stuart Ray, a professor of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University, said in a news release from the school. “We need to be vigilant in monitoring such shifts, but we can only speculate at this point.”