JB Pritzker

Illinois' Top Doctor Addresses Rising Pediatric Hospitalizations Amid COVID Surge

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Across the U.S., some states are reporting an increase in pediatric hospitalizations as the new omicron variant continues to spread and Illinois' top doctor said the state is watching such numbers very closely.

"So, we have seen that [increase] in some other states very clearly," Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said Monday. "We're still looking at our numbers. I have anecdotally talked to many pediatricians who are heads of departments or hospitals who are seeing that there is an increase, so we are going to continue to follow those numbers."

The New York State Department of Health issued a warning Friday of a “striking increase” in new hospital admissions for children — particularly of unvaccinated children — amid spiraling coronavirus outbreak numbers in the state.

A health advisory said the recent fourfold increase in admissions that began the week of Dec. 5 are concentrated in New York City and the surrounding area, where the highly contagious omicron variant was spreading rapidly.

“The risks of COVID-19 for children are real,” acting State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said in a release.

“We are alerting New Yorkers to this recent striking increase in pediatric COVID-19 admissions so that pediatricians, parents and guardians can take urgent action to protect our youngest New Yorkers. We must use all available safe and effective infection control, prevention and mitigation strategies," she said.

Ezike said should similar trends be reported in Illinois, it would be concerning given the state's capacity for treating critically ill children.

"You know, there's not that many pediatric hospitals that can especially manage a very critically ill pediatric patient," Ezike said. "So if that bears out, you know, we want to get that information and we want people to be very aware of that."

In delivering his first COVID update since the omicron variant first arrived in Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday said the state is taking new measures to address surging cases and hospitalizations and a heightened demand for testing after the Christmas holiday and ahead of New Year's Eve celebrations.

Ezike said she's not ready to "sound the alarm" just yet, but noted "we have anecdotally heard and we've seen a mild increase" in pediatric hospitalizations.

"But we expect an increase because we are seeing, even though there's not a direct proportion now, the same proportion between cases and hospitalizations. We know as the cases have increased, the hospitalizations have definitely increased," she said. "We're averaging about 500 new COVID admits a day... a day. And so as it increases in adults it's absolutely going to increase a kids. So by that, we can say yes, the numbers are up. But is it where we are running out of the pediatric hospital beds? We're not getting that, but of course, that would be a natural assumption that we're going to continue to see more people. Hopefully, it won't be so severe. We don't want to report any more deaths period and of course those pediatric deaths are especially hard to deal with."

Ezike said Monday that the state is currently seeing its highest number of cases of the entire pandemic and hospitalizations increased by 330 patients in the last 24 hours.

"It's not just about cases. If it was just cases and no one was ending up in the hospital, then let the cases be," she said.

Though Illinois' most recent COVID metrics have been delayed due to the holiday weekend, the state set a new record for single-day COVID cases on Thursday, with more than 18,000 new confirmed and probable cases of coronavirus reported within 24 hours.

According to figures from IDPH, a total of 18,942 cases of the virus were diagnosed in a single day, obliterating the previous record for most positive test results in one day.

While Ezike noted that breakthrough infections are being reported, she said that should not be a reason not to get vaccinated.

"I know there are people who will argue and push back and say, 'Oh, but we're seeing breakthrough cases. Oh, we're seeing breakthrough hospitalization. So why get vaccinated?'" Ezike said. "Admittedly, nothing is 100%. No vaccine is 100%. But if you can significantly, drastically reduce your chance of being hospitalized or dying, why wouldn't you avail yourself that opportunity?"

NBC Chicago/Associated Press
Contact Us