While children’s hospitals in some parts of the United States are seeing significant increases in illnesses and hospitalizations due to COVID-19, health officials in Illinois and the Chicago area say that they aren’t seeing those types of increases, but are still taking extra precautions to ensure that children continue to stay safe as variants help fuel new cases.
In the state of Illinois, hospitalization rates for children under the age of 12 have largely remained steady in recent months, while hospitalizations among children between the ages of 12 and 17 have actually dropped in the last two months.
Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, says that her office is seeing more COVID cases among children, but that they are generally following the pattern of previous variants of the virus, with children generally not seeing severe health outcomes when they do get sick.
“They’re seeing more younger people (being infected), but that’s because kids haven’t had the opportunity yet to be vaccinated. We are seeing more children sick just because it is more contagious,” Arwady said. “The good news is, just like in the other types of COVID, the huge majority of the time, they have a relatively minor case.”
Dr. Abigail Hodges of Oak Park Pediatrics says that while the delta variant is more contagious than previous strains of the virus, it generally doesn’t cause severe health outcomes like hospitalizations and death at any higher rate than previous variants.
“We are seeing more kids getting COVID. We’re seeing a lot more positives at my office, but they’re not more sick than they were before,” she said.
COVID hospitalization rates in Illinois for children have remained largely steady for most of 2021, according to data provided by state health officials. In the month of July, 57 children under the age of 12 were hospitalized in Illinois due to COVID-19, with 21 children between the ages of 12 and 17 hospitalized in that time.
Those numbers closely mirror the totals from other months, with 58 hospitalizations reported in both March and April among children 12 and under. May saw 55 hospitalizations in that age group, with June serving as a bit of an outlier with 29 hospitalizations.
Hospitalizations among teens between the ages of 12 and 17 actually are down in recent months, after peaking at 60 in April and then 50 in May. In June, 20 total hospitalizations were reported in that demographic.
Children between the ages of 12 and 17 are currently eligible to receive the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine under an emergency use authorization issued by the FDA.
Doctors in other parts of the United States are reporting a different story. At children’s hospitals in Louisiana and Texas, two states hit hard by recent surges caused by the delta variant, officials are reporting unseasonable spikes in respiratory illnesses among children, shrinking bed capacity.
“It’s scary, especially for kids who don’t fully understand what’s going on. They’re air-hungry, struggling for breath, and it’s just scary,” Dr. Kelechi Iheagwara, medical director of the pediatric ICU at the Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, told NBC News.
According to NBC News data, the children's hospital in Baton Rouge saw 75 cases of COVID-19 that required hospitalizations in the month of July, the highest number it has seen during the entire pandemic. The hospital also reported 27 admissions in just the first four days of August.
Hospitals in other parts of the country are seeing similar increases. In St. Louis, a children’s hospital reported 13 hospitalizations for COVID in the last week of July, then followed that up with 20 in the first week of August. In Houston, COVID positivity rates have risen to 10% among kids, and more than 30 children have been hospitalized there because of the virus.
Even as hospitalizations remain largely steady in Illinois, some hospitals are taking precautionary measures. At Chicago’s Lurie Children’s Hospital, employees, contractors, students and badged vendors will be required to receive COVID vaccines, with exceptions made for those with approved religious or medical reasons.
Lurie is also serving as a clinical trial site for the Moderna vaccine, as researchers work to ensure that the treatment is safe for children under the age of 18.