Importance: A surge in severe cases of COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) in children would present unique challenges for hospitals and public health preparedness efforts in the United States.
Objective: To provide evidence-based estimates of children infected with SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) and projected cumulative numbers of severely ill pediatric COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalization during the US 2020 pandemic.
Design: Empirical case projection study.
Main outcomes and measures: Adjusted pediatric severity proportions and adjusted pediatric criticality proportions were derived from clinical and spatiotemporal modeling studies of the COVID-19 epidemic in China for the period January-February 2020. Estimates of total children infected with SARS-CoV-2 in the United States through April 6, 2020, were calculated using US pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) cases and the adjusted pediatric criticality proportion. Projected numbers of severely and critically ill children with COVID-19 were derived by applying the adjusted severity and criticality proportions to US population data, under several scenarios of cumulative pediatric infection proportion (CPIP).
Results: By April 6, 2020, there were 74 children who had been reported admitted to PICUs in 19 states, reflecting an estimated 176 190 children nationwide infected with SARS-CoV-2 (52 381 infants and toddlers younger than 2 years, 42 857 children aged 2-11 years, and 80 952 children aged 12-17 years). Under a CPIP scenario of 5%, there would be 3.7 million children infected with SARS-CoV-2, 9907 severely ill children requiring hospitalization, and 1086 critically ill children requiring PICU admission. Under a CPIP scenario of 50%, 10 865 children would require PICU admission, 99 073 would require hospitalization for severe pneumonia, and 37.0 million would be infected with SARS-CoV-2.
Conclusions and relevance: Because there are 74.0 million children 0 to 17 years old in the United States, the projected numbers of severe cases could overextend available pediatric hospital care resources under several moderate CPIP scenarios for 2020 despite lower severity of COVID-19 in children than in adults.