As COVID cases in children reach record levels that have not been seen since last year, experts warn that it could only get worse as kids return to school amid the spread of the Delta variant across the country.

According to the latest report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association for the week ending Aug. 19, more than 180,000 cases of COVID were reported in children, up from 38,000 cases reported near the end of July.

“It is scary to see the number and severity of COVID-19 cases rising in children with the Delta variant and so many kids still left unprotected,” Dr. Nusheen Ameenuddin, a community pediatrician at the Mayo Clinic, told CNBC. “The pandemic never stopped, and unfortunately, it only takes one lit match to reignite the inferno.”

This significant increase comes as the highly contagious Delta variant continues to spread. Due to COVID infections, several schools across the country have had to temporarily shut their doors, requiring thousands to quarantine.

CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner told the news outlet, “The virus is raging in all these children who are unvaccinated, which is why in schools mask mandates are so important."

Compounding the issue is there is no approved COVID vaccine for most school-aged children. The Pfizer vaccine, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration on Monday, only has acceptance for those 16 and older. Those under the age of 12 have no COVID vaccine access at all.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 44% of 16 and 17-year-olds have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with 34% of children 12 to 15 receiving both doses of the vaccine, CNBC reported.

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told CNN on Tuesday that a COVID shot for younger kids under the age of 12 could come by the end of the year. However, that may not be soon enough.

Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the FDA’s vaccines advisory committee, told CNN that because the Delta variant has high transmissibility, the cold, dry winter months could make it easier for the virus to spread, especially when children are sitting together in classrooms.

He continued, “You are going to have a group of fully susceptible people all in one place. That's not a good recipe."

But Offit maintained that it is important that health officials take the time needed to make sure that COVID vaccines for children are heavily tested and deemed safe before authorized for use.

Children only account for 1.8% of COVID hospitalizations in the U.S., and of the 520,000 COVID-19 deaths in the country, fewer than 500 were kids under 18, according to data from the CDC, as reported by CNBC.

children Wearing Face Masks
Kids are seen wearing face masks amid the coronavirus pandemic. Pexels