Spurred by the fast-spreading delta variant, Chicago's Lurie Children's Hospital has reported an increase in the number of children testing positive for COVID-19, a situation many hospitals are grappling with nationwide.
Children are being hospitalized in record numbers across the U.S., and doctors warn it could get worse as schools begin to reopen and the delta variant drives cases higher.
While some children with severe COVID infections are being treated at Lurie, the hospital hasn't reported a dramatic uptick in hospitalizations like other health facilities across the country.
Dr. Tina Tan, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Lurie, explained the Chicago hospital has seen a "slight increase" in the number of children admitted with COVID-19. As of Friday, eight COVID-positive children were being treated as in-patients.
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"There is no evidence right now that the delta variant causes more severe disease in kids," Tan said. "It’s just that because there’s so much more of it out in the community right now, and it is more transmissible. This just increases the risk for children to be infected."
New COVID hospital admissions for kids have reached their highest levels since the U.S. started tracking pediatric cases about a year ago, peaking at an average of 303 new admissions per day over the week ended Aug. 22, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows.
Pediatric hospitalizations are highest in Oklahoma, Ohio, Louisiana and Kentucky, after adjusting for population, according to data compiled by the Department of Health Human Services. Those states all have vaccination rates below the national rate, according to the CDC.
Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid vaccine has been authorized for emergency use by the FDA for children 12 to 15 while scientists gather more data on that age group; it’s been fully approved for those 16 and older. Moderna’s vaccine has only been cleared for adults, but it’s expecting to soon get authorized for use in 12- to 17-year-olds.
Since most students aren’t old enough to get the shots, doctors and epidemiologists say they fear the surge in hospitalizations could get worse unless more kids get vaccinated and school districts mandate masks and other safety precautions in class.
"It is something we need to continue to monitor as kids go back to school, because in places where people are not enforcing mask mandates, as well as other protective mitigation protocols, it’s not going to be surprising that you see an increase in the number of people infected," Tan said.
The pediatrician says it's much more beneficial for students to learn in-person compared to virtually, but stresses that maintaining physical distancing, having good ventilation and other precautions are crucial.
"In-person school will be safe as long as mask mandates are in place, people that are eligible for vaccination are vaccinated, and all of these other protective mitigation protocols are being practiced," she said.