Most of the 85 young children in a South Texas county who are known to have contracted the coronavirus tested positive this month amid a surge in the state, a health official said Sunday.
Nearly all of the children, most of whom are one year old or younger, are expected to recover on their own, Annette Rodriguez, the Corpus Christi-Nueces County public health director, told The Associated Press by phone. One of the children died, but officials are still trying to determine if COVID-19 was the cause, she said.
"There's always that concern that you're going to have that one baby like we did that passed away," Rodriguez said. "How many more from this group? What percent will you lose possibly to this virus?"
The county, which is home to about 362,000 people and sits on the Gulf Coast, is one of several COVID-19 hot spots in Texas, which has been hammered by the disease in recent weeks.
On Sunday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the Department of Defense had sent five teams of Navy doctors to four locations in southern and southwestern Texas to help hospitals where capacity has become stretched.
Rodriguez said during a public health update on Friday that 85 infants in Nueces County had tested positive, though she clarified Sunday that some of the kids were not infants -- up to a year old -- and were as old as 23 months. Her Friday claim prompted Nueces County's top elected official, Judge Barbara Canales, to issue a statement Saturday saying the 85 figure reflected the cumulative total since mid-March.
But Rodriguez stressed Sunday that although the oldest of the cases goes back to mid-March, most of them -- 60 infants -- tested positive from July 1 to July 16.
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"But it's still important. Eighty-five (young children) picking up COVID-19 is very troubling," Rodriguez said.
The child who died was less than half a year old and tested positive this month. The child was hospitalized and released before dying at home of what officials first believed was sudden infant death syndrome. Officials are now awaiting lab results to determine if the virus was a factor in the death, Rodriguez said.
Nine of the other children were also hospitalized but have since been released, Rodriguez said. The first young child from Nueces County was hospitalized in mid-June.
One of the infants who tested positive is a recent newborn whose mother also has the virus, she said.
Experts in pediatrics and infectious disease say there are still many unanswered questions about how COVID-19 affects children. Several studies suggest, but don't prove, that children are less likely to become infected than adults and more likely to have only mild symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.5% of the confirmed cases in the U.S. have been in children 4 years old or younger, while 0.2% of the country's COVID-19 deaths have been in kids from that age group.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.
The increasing number of positive tests in younger children in Nueces County is due in part to aggressive testing by the county, especially of family members who live or work in high-risk situations, including senior care centers, jails, group homes and halfway houses, and meatpacking plants, Canales said.
Rodriguez said that although increased testing is part of the reason the disease is being found in Nueces County kids more frequently, she thinks the main reason is the "dramatic" rise in cases in the county, particularly this month.
"The general population has COVID-19 and now their infants are getting COVID-19, as well. I think some of it is community transmission as well," Rodriguez said, referring to when people test positive for the disease but health officials can't trace how they got it.