Importance: Understanding of SARS-CoV-2 infection in US children has been limited by the lack of large, multicenter studies with granular data.
Objective: To examine the characteristics, changes over time, outcomes, and severity risk factors of children with SARS-CoV-2 within the National COVID Cohort Collaborative (N3C).
Design, setting, and participants: A prospective cohort study of encounters with end dates before September 24, 2021, was conducted at 56 N3C facilities throughout the US. Participants included children younger than 19 years at initial SARS-CoV-2 testing.
Main outcomes and measures: Case incidence and severity over time, demographic and comorbidity severity risk factors, vital sign and laboratory trajectories, clinical outcomes, and acute COVID-19 vs multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), and Delta vs pre-Delta variant differences for children with SARS-CoV-2.
Results: A total of 1 068 410 children were tested for SARS-CoV-2 and 167 262 test results (15.6%) were positive (82 882 [49.6%] girls; median age, 11.9 [IQR, 6.0-16.1] years). Among the 10 245 children (6.1%) who were hospitalized, 1423 (13.9%) met the criteria for severe disease: mechanical ventilation (796 [7.8%]), vasopressor-inotropic support (868 [8.5%]), extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (42 [0.4%]), or death (131 [1.3%]). Male sex (odds ratio [OR], 1.37; 95% CI, 1.21-1.56), Black/African American race (OR, 1.25; 95% CI, 1.06-1.47), obesity (OR, 1.19; 95% CI, 1.01-1.41), and several pediatric complex chronic condition (PCCC) subcategories were associated with higher severity disease. Vital signs and many laboratory test values from the day of admission were predictive of peak disease severity. Variables associated with increased odds for MIS-C vs acute COVID-19 included male sex (OR, 1.59; 95% CI, 1.33-1.90), Black/African American race (OR, 1.44; 95% CI, 1.17-1.77), younger than 12 years (OR, 1.81; 95% CI, 1.51-2.18), obesity (OR, 1.76; 95% CI, 1.40-2.22), and not having a pediatric complex chronic condition (OR, 0.72; 95% CI, 0.65-0.80). The children with MIS-C had a more inflammatory laboratory profile and severe clinical phenotype, with higher rates of invasive ventilation (117 of 707 [16.5%] vs 514 of 8241 [6.2%]; P < .001) and need for vasoactive-inotropic support (191 of 707 [27.0%] vs 426 of 8241 [5.2%]; P < .001) compared with those who had acute COVID-19. Comparing children during the Delta vs pre-Delta eras, there was no significant change in hospitalization rate (1738 [6.0%] vs 8507 [6.2%]; P = .18) and lower odds for severe disease (179 [10.3%] vs 1242 [14.6%]) (decreased by a factor of 0.67; 95% CI, 0.57-0.79; P < .001).
Conclusions and relevance: In this cohort study of US children with SARS-CoV-2, there were observed differences in demographic characteristics, preexisting comorbidities, and initial vital sign and laboratory values between severity subgroups. Taken together, these results suggest that early identification of children likely to progress to severe disease could be achieved using readily available data elements from the day of admission. Further work is needed to translate this knowledge into improved outcomes.