LEWISTON — Nearly half of new COVID-19 cases reported Tuesday were among Mainers under the age of 20, not surprising perhaps considering most students returned to in-person instruction over the past couple of weeks.

One of the most common symptoms in children, a runny nose, could be easily mistaken for seasonal allergies, a Lewiston pediatrician said.

State health officials Tuesday reported 667 new cases of COVID-19 over a three-day period, 319 of which were among individuals 19 years or younger.

There were 76 new cases in Androscoggin County, seven in Franklin County and 12 in Oxford County.

The state reported eight additional deaths, seven of which came from a review of vital records dating from Aug. 8 to Aug. 27, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention spokesperson Robert Long said Tuesday. None of the deaths were residents of the Androscoggin, Franklin or Oxford counties.

Pediatrician Dr. Gretchen Pianka said she and other providers at Central Maine Pediatrics in Lewiston are seeing more COVID cases among children than before the school year started.

“It’s definitely higher than it’s been before,” she said. “We’re definitely seeing more COVID but also still seeing all the other things, too” related to the unusual spike in respiratory viruses among children for this time of year.

As of Sept. 6, nearly 30% of all COVID cases in Maine were among individuals younger than 25, according to a report from the Maine CDC published Tuesday, and 17.5% were among individuals 18 years and younger.

Out of Maine’s 16 counties, Androscoggin had the highest case rate among residents under the age of 25, with nearly 9% of all cases there stemming from that age group.

Pianka said her practice’s same-day access clinic is “filled to the brim” with children who are sick or who have symptoms of COVID and need a negative COVID test before they can return to the classroom.

“Lately, we don’t have same-day appointments,” she said. “We have to push people out to the next day because we’re just overwhelmed with respiratory cases. A lot of the kids are sick.”

“Part of the problem,” Pianka said, is that children are coming in with symptoms that could be easily mistaken for common allergy side effects.

“A lot of these kids are coming in with just like a runny nose,” she said. “Almost half of these kids have just a runny nose and when I spoke with the school nurses, what they’re saying is that runny nose by itself, unless you’re feeling unwell, doesn’t exclude you from school.”

The U.S. and Maine CDCs list a runny nose as a common symptom of COVID, but it is not specifically listed on the Maine Department of Education’s suggested daily prescreening checklist. Most schools require that students or their guardians complete the checklist every day before heading into school.

The checklist asks three questions: Have you had a fever or taken fever-reducing medicine within the past 24 hours? Are you supposed to quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure? Do you feel sick, had vomiting/diarrhea, fever, sore throat or felt unwell.”

“The parents are like, well, we just have to get cleared to go back to school and we don’t think they have COVID,” Pianka said. “They think they have allergies but it ends up being COVID positive.”

According to the Sept. 6 CDC report, a runny nose is the most common symptom among adolescents and seen in about 38% of cases, which is greater than the prevalence of fatigue, cough or headache, or of asymptomatic cases.

“I think we might, as we start seeing more cases and realizing what this looks like when kids get it, we might need to revise some of those recommendations” to catch children whose only symptoms are runny noses, Pianka said.

It could be easy to send your child to school thinking they have seasonal sniffles but Pianka wants more parents to be aware of this and “what you need to do from like a social responsibility standpoint, if your child is COVID positive,” including keeping children home from school and other activities.

“We really can help with the well-being of people who can’t get vaccinated, either because their too young or because they have comorbid conditions,” she said.

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