'Kids Are Very Seriously at Risk,' Warns NIH Director as COVID Delta Variant Surges

National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins warned Sunday that "kids are very seriously at risk" as the highly contagious COVID Delta variant surges across the United States.

"I think traditionally people kind of considered, 'Well, you know, kids aren't going to get that sick with this. The virus won't really bother them.' That's not the evidence," he said during an appearance on Fox News Sunday.

"More than 400 children have died of COVID-19, and right now we have almost 2,000 kids in the hospital, many of them in ICU, some of them under the age of four," he added.

Addressing face masks, he said, "It's really unfortunate that politics and polarization have gotten in the way of a simple public health measure. This mask became a symbol but it never should have been. This is basically just a life-saving medical device, and somehow it's now being seen as an invasion of your personal liberty."

As of Saturday, more than 1,900 children were hospitalized in the U.S. due to COVID-19, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services, Reuters reported. COVID-19 hospitalizations have surged especially in the South.

Children now make up around 2.4 percent of U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations, Reuters reported Saturday.

Children under the age of 12 are still not eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19, leaving many parents worried about the highly transmissible Delta variant. However, children aged 12 and above can get the Pfizer vaccine, which has received emergency approval.

On Saturday, an eighth-grader in Mississippi died of COVID-19 just hours after testing positive for the virus, and shortly after Governor Tate Reeves said that students are at a low risk of becoming severely sick from COVID, reported the Mississippi Free Press.

The girl, who was not identified, attended Smith County Schools for most of the week before testing positive for COVID-19. The school district on August 10 imposed a mask mandate for students and staff after several people tested positive for COVID.

"If you look at those individuals under the age of 12, what you find is that it is very rare that kids under the age of 12 have anything other than the sniffles," Tate said during a Friday press conference.

As of Saturday, less than 60 percent of people in the U.S. have received at least one does of COVID-19 vaccine. Collins warned that COVID cases will continue to rise, saying, "I will be surprised if we don't cross 200,000 cases a day in the next couple of weeks."

NIH Director warns about COVID
Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said Sunday that children are "very seriously at risk" amid a surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the Delta variant. Above, a girl is vaccinated on August 12 in New Orleans.