WEST READING, Pa. — COVID-19 cases among children in Pennsylvania have been increasing over the last month. More than 4,000 cases were identified among school-aged children during the week ending Sept. 1, including 117 in Berks County.

Dr. Christopher Valente, Reading Hospital's chief of pediatric emergency care, cited several reasons for the uptick. He said the delta variant is playing a role, as it is more contagious than the original strain.

Valente said in the spring and early summer, social distancing and mask wearing also dropped. He said people need to resume mitigation efforts.

Valente also said those who can get vaccinated should roll up their sleeves to help protect kids who can't get the shot.

"The way to protect [kids under 12] is to have them mask and to immunize whoever we can," Valente said. "If they are 12 or over, I would strongly recommend receiving the immunization."

He said kids can experience a range of symptoms from COVID-19, just like adults. It can be things like coughs or vomiting, as well as serious complications like multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, also known as MIS-C.

He said Reading Hospital has sent kids to pediatric ICUs for that.

"Most to my knowledge, if not all, have recovered, fortunately, but in severe cases, they can experience encephalitis, which is the brain inflammation you're talking about, as well as inflammation of other organs," Valente said. "Most notably for COVID, it tends to be the heart. We call that myocarditis."

Valente said it's not clear if there are long-term health impacts from these conditions yet, but time will tell.

He said, fortunately, children tend to get less sick from the coronavirus, but there are children who do get severely ill.

"As the number of cases rise, there will be children who get these complications like multisystem inflammatory syndrome that will wind up in the hospital or wind up with breathing tubes, on ventilators, and there will be more children who die," Valente said. "And then it just becomes a game of Russian roulette, if that will be a child in our community, children in one of our families, and so that's not a game that I'm interested in playing."

Valente is urging people to mask up, practice social distancing, wash their hands, and get vaccinated if they are eligible and haven't already.

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