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Coronavirus variants are more contagious. What does that mean for kids?

States, including Oregon, are seeing a small rise in new cases in kids between 10 and 19. New variants may be one reason why.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Coronavirus cases are slowly rising in Oregon again, and one reason may be more contagious variants of the COVID-19 virus. Experts worry kids are catching these variants more easily. 

One Portland pediatrician says parents call his clinic all the time with questions about COVID-19 variants and about vaccines. 

Earlier in the pandemic, children were not major players in spreading the virus and they didn't get very sick

Now states, including Oregon, are seeing a small rise in the share of new cases in kids between 10 and 19. 

Kids with COVID-19 still typically don't get very sick, but the spread in some states is driven by more contagious variants, and kids may be playing a role. 

These upticks are happening as young children and teens all over the U.S. start in-person learning, sports and social activities again. And they haven't been vaccinated yet.

RELATED: COVID-19 sickens larger proportion of young people, Oregon and national data show

That worries some parents, like Lee Ann Moldovanyi, who didn't send her kids back to school in Portland. 

"To me the variants are as worrisome as COVID was in the first place. Unless we have vaccines that cover variants and a population that's significantly vaccinated, I'm very concerned about variants," Moldovanyi said.

RELATED: CDC: COVID-19 variant first found in Britain now most common in US

Dr. Corey Fish, chief medical officer and pediatrician with Brave Care, says it's important to give context around what happens with different age groups of kids.

"What's important to keep in mind is that we have known from the beginning the virus interacts with people much more differently who are 15 to 19 years old versus preschoolers and younger school-aged kids. From what I have seen I haven't seen evidence of a dramatic uptick, particularly in children 0-to-12 or 0-to-14," Dr. Fish said.

Is the U.K. variant in Oregon?

The U.K. variant is much more contagious, and last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it's now the dominant type in the U.S.

But it's not dominant in Oregon, where health officials say we still have more of the original strain. The two main variants here are from California, though they are more contagious as well. 

That said, the U.K. variant, B.1.1.7, is here in the state.

Dr. Fish says kids are more likely to catch variants than they are the original strain.

"The concern boils down to those two things: how easily it makes you sick and the fact that you need to be exposed to less of it to get sick," Dr. Fish added.

Are variants more dangerous for kids?

Data is limited about severity in kids. But Dr. Fish and other experts don't see evidence showing kids get sicker from any of the variants or that the variants spread disproportionately among kids.

The vast majority of children - especially under 12 years old - only get mild symptoms from COVID.

Are the COVID-19 vaccines effective against variants?

Early research shows the COVID vaccines on the market are effective against the variants spreading in Oregon at this point.

However, only one vaccine is authorized for teens over 16 at this time, and kids can't get vaccinated in Oregon yet.

Dr. Fish says the sooner everyone gets a shot, the less time the virus has to mutate and potentially become resistant to vaccines.

Do we need to do anything different to protect ourselves from variants?

First, doctors urge you to get vaccinated as soon as you're able.

Because variants spread more easily, we need to keep doing all the things we've been doing this past year - and then some: social-distance, wear your mask, wash your hands, quarantine if exposed and get tested immediately.

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