SALT LAKE CITY — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reportedly preparing to send an alert out to doctors about an inflammatory syndrome in children possibly related to the novel coronavirus.
News of the alert came after Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified in a Senate video conference hearing Tuesday about COVID-19. His testimony included remarks about a rash of cases of a "strange inflammatory syndrome" similar to Kawasaki syndrome appearing in the nation.
It’s called pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, and its symptoms include persistent fever, inflammation, poor function in one or more organs and symptoms similar to toxic shock. New York officials were the first to report it in U.S. patients and now say there are possibly 100 cases in their state, according to CNN. Doctors in Utah said they got their first potential case last week.
It’s too early to know how much this could impact Utah or how it might alter the state’s coronavirus policies set up for children. But should changes need to be made as health experts get an understanding of this mysterious new syndrome, there is a process in place to do so, state health officials told KSL.com on Wednesday.
Understanding new syndrome and a possible link to coronavirus
Kawasaki syndrome itself was discovered in Japan during the 1960s. It is known to only affect children under the age of 5 and is considered very rare, according to the CDC. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, officials started to find cases similar to the syndrome in children over 5 years old.
For example, one of the earliest cases of the mysterious syndrome appeared in a 9-year-old boy whose illness came just days after his mother had recovered from COVID-19, the Associated Press reported. When the boy fell ill, he tested positive for the coronavirus at a hospital. But his symptoms were closer to Kawasaki syndrome than known COVID-19 symptoms. The state reports similar cases involving about 100 young individuals, including the deaths of a 5-year-old, a 7-year-old and an 18-year-old.
Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of the Division of Pediatric Disease at University of Utah Health and Primary Children’s Hospital, told KSL TV last week that doctors have only been aware of the new syndrome for a couple of weeks and that it had been reported in the United Kingdom and then in New York. Pavia said, at the time, doctors were looking into a potential case in Utah.
On Wednesday, Utah Department of Health epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said health officials were seeking to find other potential cases and none had been confirmed, to her knowledge. "It is something that’s scary, and we want to make sure that we get the information to physicians and parents out there as soon as possible," she said during a press briefing.
Fauci insisted during his testimony Tuesday that people should be careful about COVID-19 policies regarding children, even if child mortality from COVID-19 is low. He then pointed to the rash of cases involving an inflammatory disease possibly linked to the coronavirus.
"The more and more we learn, we’re seeing things with what this virus can do that we didn’t see from the studies in China or in Europe," he said. "I think we better be careful that we are not cavalier in thinking that children are completely immune from the deleterious effects."
What does this mean for schools and child policies?
Fauci made that comment in response to a question asked by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who noted the mortality rate in children ages 0-18 "approaches zero." Paul said the U.S. should look at the model from Sweden, which kept schools open, and added that he thought it would be "ridiculous" to have a one-size-fits-all plan for schools nationwide.
"If we keep kids out of school another year, what’s going to happen is the poor and underprivileged kids who don’t have a parent who is able to teach them at home are not going to learn for a full year?" he asked. "I think we have to look at the Swedish model and we’ve got to look at letting our kids back to school. I think it’s a huge mistake if we don’t open schools in the fall."
Utah’s public schools closed and moved to online learning following an order from Gov. Gary Herbert on March 13. While the initial order was for two weeks, the decision was later made to keep school buildings closed as the school year wraps up in the coming weeks. The state’s guideline for school closures, which is outlined in its tiered economy reopening plan, states schools are closed in red and orange phases but can reopen during a yellow phase.
- Schools may open under the direction of the Utah State Board of Education, but follow distancing guidelines with increased cleaning and hygiene regimens
- Increased cleaning and hygiene regimens
- All symptomatic children should stay home from school and child care and will be sent home if exhibiting any symptoms
- Limit child interaction with other children in public spaces (e.g. playground equipment); a 6-foot distance should be maintained
If the CDC is warning doctors about a new syndrome involving children, would that change the state’s policies related to children? Utah State Board of Education officials deferred KSL.com’s inquiry to state health officials, who said it’s a decision that could be made at a later date.
Much of what will happen in the fall will be determined based on illness trends in Utah and decisions made by the Public Health and Emergency Economic Commission established by Gov. Gary Herbert.
–Utah Department of Health Spokesperson
"Much of what will happen in the fall will be determined based on illness trends in Utah and decisions made by the Public Health and Emergency Economic Commission established by Gov. Gary Herbert," a health department spokesperson said in a statement.
As for any blanket one-size-fits-all school closure policy of the kind Paul opposed on Tuesday, Mike Leavitt, former Utah governor and former U.S. Health and Human Services secretary, also argued it might be best for leaders of individual school districts to make their own decisions regarding reopening in the fall.
"We’re moving into a period now where we’re opening up and we’re going to be called upon to make more individual decisions … decisions that might be made by a business, an individual school district, where we don’t have full guidance and aren’t being told by the government exactly what to do," he said, during an interview on KSL NewsRadio’s Dave & Dujanovic on Wednesday morning. "In those cases, there’s going to be different people who respond to it differently."
Contributing: Debbie Dujanovic and Dave Noriega, KSL NewsRadio