On Christmas Eve, Sarah Barlow’s two children tested positive for COVID-19. They were too young to be vaccinated and their symptoms started with low fevers. For 4-year-old Liam, things have never been more serious than this.
But 19-month-old Isla’s fever kept climbing and she was admitted to hospital on Christmas Day.
“It’s just a complete nightmare,” said Barlow, a kindergarten teacher in West Orange, New Jersey. Barlow and her husband are both vaccinated and boosted and she described their behavior as “beyond caution” throughout the pandemic.
So far both have tested negative. But after being so careful for so long, seeing their children test positive for COVID-19 has been an overwhelming moment.
“I felt so defeated,” Barlow said. “You spend almost two years protecting your children from this catastrophe … I felt defeated and I felt sad. And I felt bad for them.”
Today, after three days of isolation in a hospital room where she could not receive visitors other than Barlow, Isla was released.
Especially now that the omicron is circulating, Barlow implores anyone who is able to get vaccinated to do so to protect themselves and those around them.
“We also have to think about these little babies. It’s not just about us, ”she said. “It’s not that they choose not to get the vaccine, it’s that they can’t.”
Rising rates of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in children
In New York City, there has been a noticeable “increase” in pediatric hospitalizations due to COVID-19, Dr. Mary T. Bassett, acting commissioner of the New York State Department of Health, said in a report. communicated. press conference yesterday.
During the week of December 5, there were 22 hospitalizations of children aged 0 to 18 with COVID-19 in the city and 70 statewide. But during the week of December 19, there were 109 new pediatric hospitalizations in New York City and a total of 184 in the state.
Statewide, the number of pediatric hospitalizations for COVID-19 has more than doubled since early December, Bassett said. “But New York City has almost quintupled.”
“We are releasing this data because we want pediatricians to be attentive to the diagnosis of COVID in children. And we also want parents to be attentive to the diagnosis,” Bassett continued. “A lot of people still think that children are not infected with COVID; that is not true. Children are infected and some will be hospitalized.”
The rate of COVID-19 among children in the United States has increased since early November, according to data from the American Association of Pediatrics. There were nearly 200,000 new pediatric cases in the week ending December 23, the most recent week for which data are available. This compares to 164,000 at the start of December, nearly 252,000 at the height of the delta’s rise last summer and 211,000 at the height of last winter’s rise.
“We have seen an increase in the number of children hospitalized with COVID,” Dr. Sallie Permar, chief pediatrician at New York-Presbyterian / Weill Cornell Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian Komansky Children’s Hospital and chair of the department of pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine said TODAY.
“This is much higher than last year. The numbers I have heard for pediatrics are higher than at any time during the pandemic,” said TODAY specialist Dr Aaron Milstone of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.
“The rates right now are sort of through the roof,” he said, and on the contrary, they are probably underestimating actual cases due to the use of home testing. Unlike tests performed in hospitals or emergency care centers, home test results are not automatically included in official state counts.
Around the same time last year, COVID-19 vaccines were not available to the general public, and adults accounted for most of the severe coronavirus cases in the country. “Now we are seeing that cases may be more common in children as they remain the under-vaccinated population,” Permar explained.
However, not everyone sees the same leap in pediatric cases. “We haven’t had an increase (in cases) in my hospital,” said Dr. Jennifer Lighter, hospital epidemiologist and pediatric infectious disease specialist at NYU Langone Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital TODAY.
Spread of omicron likely contributes to cases in children
Not all COVID-19 cases sequenced to know which variant it is, but data suggests omicron is rapidly becoming the dominant strain in the United States
“In the Baltimore area, we saw our first cases of omicron right after Thanksgiving,” Milstone explained. “And between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it literally went from delta domination to omicron domination.”
Permar, in New York, agreed, “We assume that most of the cases we admit are omicron cases.”
As cases lag behind exposures and hospitalizations lag behind cases, Milstone and Lighter expect the numbers to continue to rise in the weeks to come.
Permar noted that the increase in pediatric hospitalizations is probably not due to the fact that omicron infections are inherently more serious in children. “The increase in pediatric hospitalizations due to COVID is due to the high number of cases in the community and the fact that (children) remain under-immunized compared to adults,” she said.
Although serious results from COVID-19 are still rare in children, “the problem with rare results is that as the virus becomes more common, we just see more of it,” Milstone said. So even though omicron is found to cause milder illness overall, with the number of cases on the rise, doctors also expect to see more hospitalizations.
“The number of people entering our hospital has doubled in just one week,” he said, noting that non-COVID hospital procedures are being delayed and staff are also falling ill. “It’s a terrible place to be in health care.”
What are the symptoms of the omicron variant in children?
Symptoms associated with the omicron variant can be similar to those of a mild cold, including cough, fatigue, and congestion.
And so far, the symptoms in children appear to be quite close to what we’ve seen with other variants of the coronavirus. “They always come with a fever, sore throat, congestion and cough,” Milstone said, adding that a sore throat and loss of taste and smell were still common symptoms.
“We are also seeing influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, but those numbers are eclipsed by the number of COVID cases,” Milstone said. “If there’s anyone out there right now who thinks they have a cold, (you should assume) the cold is COVID until proven guilty.”
Eligible children must be vaccinated
The Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA COVID-19 vaccine was cleared for use in children aged 5 to 11 in early November. But only about 14% of children in this age group are actually fully immunized, according to data from the Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention. Among children 12 to 17 years of age, for whom Pfizer vaccine and boosters are now permitted, about 53% are fully immunized.
None of the children hospitalized with COVID-19 in New York City have been vaccinated, Bassett said at the briefing.
“They don’t see any cases of children being vaccinated in the hospital. It shows just how powerful vaccination is, ”said Dr. Taison Bell, assistant professor of medicine in the divisions of infectious diseases and international health and pulmonary medicine and critical care at the University of Virginia, at the University of Virginia. Sam Brock of NBC TODAY.
Current pediatric vaccination rates are “unacceptable,” Lighter said. “Every child aged 5 and over should be vaccinated.”
“Parents, I’m calling you. Now is the time,” New York Governor Kathy Hochul urged at the press conference, noting that children can get vaccinated in their pediatrician’s office, vaccination sites run. by the state, pharmacies and emergency care centers. . “Please do it for them. Using that time to do this is really smart,” she said.
In addition to vaccines, we can continue to use a “layered strategies model” involving masks, distancing and outside gatherings to keep children safe, Milstone said.
Exhibitions can occur at home
It is important to remember that children can be exposed to COVID-19 from their parents and other family members.
Looking at data from South Africa, “not only were children in hospital more likely to be unvaccinated, but parents were often unvaccinated,” Permar said. “It’s just an observation that underlines how important it is for parents and all family members around a child – especially a child too young for a vaccine – to get the vaccine.”
This means that those who are eligible should get vaccinated and boosted. Families should also prioritize good air circulation (and organize gatherings outside, if possible) and continue to wear masks indoors when interacting with people outside the household. Taking these now-familiar precautions to keep yourself safe will also help protect those around you, including children too young to get the vaccine.