Dr. Dyan Hes at New York City's Gramercy Pediatrics advised parents to assume their children have the virus if they contract even mild symptoms consistent with the disease.
"I think that probably 80 percent of the children have coronavirus. We are not testing children. I'm in New York City. I can't get my patients tested," Hes said during an interview at CBS News.
"And we have to assume, if they are sick, they have coronavirus. Most of them, probably 80 to 90 percent of them, are asymptomatic."
But the number of infected children is unknown because so many children don't display any symptoms, she said - and that could alter COVID-19's mortality rate.
"So, these numbers are so skewed. I think that the mortality rate is way, way less than 0.5 percent for children who have it because it is so prevalent," Hes said.
"You have to remember thousands of kids die from flu a year. This is much, much less virulent in children."
The bigger risk lies in those infected children passing the virus to much more vulnerable populations, like the elderly or those with pre-existing health conditions.
"The problem with children is that they are so asymptomatic that they are spreading it. And our biggest mistake was that we didn't close the public schools when we should have," said Hes.
"So the children were the vectors to the teachers, who might be elderly or immunocompromised."
Hes said parents should only take their children to a doctor for scheduled vaccine visits or if they're exhibiting shortness of breath.
"[Y]ou just have to keep that child at home for 14 days. Socially distance," she added. "When they go back out, if they're above age 2, they should be wearing masks."
Children rarely contract severe illness from the coronavirus - and might not even display a fever or a cough, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from April 6.
Children make up a small fraction of confirmed US coronavirus cases - 2,572 of the 149,082 cases reported as of April 2 for which the patient's age was known, or about 1.7 percent.
But Hes says the true number of pediatric cases is not known because of the limited testing available and the relatively minor threat to kids.
"We have zero tests for children. We have zero swabs," she said.
"I've had patients whose parents have COVID, child has a 102.5 fever. At the beginning when we were doing this, we were sending them to the ER. They got turned away. They were not tested because we do not have enough tests and the kids are doing well."
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