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Virtual Learning and Youth-Onset Type 2 Diabetes During the COVID-19 Pandemic.

INTRODUCTION: Cases and severity of presentation of youth-onset type 2 diabetes (Y-T2D) increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet the potential drivers of this rise remain unknown. During this time public health mandates paused in-person education and limited social interactions, resulting in radical lifestyle changes. We hypothesized that the incidence and severity of presentation of Y-T2D increased during virtual learning amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: We conducted a single center retrospective chart review to identify all newly diagnosed cases of Y-T2D (n=387) at a pediatric tertiary care center in Washington, DC during three pre-determined learning periods as defined by learning modality in Washington, DC Public Schools: pre-pandemic in-person learning (3/11/2018-3/13/2020), pandemic virtual learning (3/14/2020-8/29/2021), and pandemic in-person learning (8/30/2021-3/10/2022) periods.

RESULTS: Incident cases were stable during pre-pandemic in-person learning (3.9 cases/month, 95% CI: 2.8 - 5.4 cases/month), increased to a peak during virtual learning (18.7 cases/month, 95% CI: 15.9 - 22.1 cases/month), and declined with return to in-person learning (4.3 cases/month, 95% CI: 2.8 - 6.8 cases/month). Y-T2D incidence was 16.9 (95% CI: 9.8-29.1, p<0.001) and 5.1-fold higher (95% CI: 2.9-9.1, p<0.001) among non-Hispanic Black and Latinx youth, respectively, throughout the study period. Overall COVID-19 infection rates at diagnosis were low (2.5%) and were not associated with diabetes incidence (p=0.26).

DISCUSSION/CONCLUSIONS: This study provides timely insights into an important and modifiable correlate of Y-T2D incidence, its disproportionate impact on underserved communities, and the need to consider the effects on long-term health outcomes and pre-existing healthcare inequities when designing public policy.

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