Growing cases of kids with COVID-19, other viruses, are straining Georgia hospitals

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dr. James E. “Eddie” Black of Phoebe Putney Health System Medical. He is Phoebe’s medical director for emergency services. Contributed

Many are alarmed at the massive increase in the number of cases in such a short time. In Georgia, the number of children aged 0 to 4 hospitalized has nearly quadrupled in the past two weeks, from 8 to 31, according to the Ministry of Health. Among school-aged children aged 5 to 17, the number has almost doubled, from 28 to 50.

In other parts of the southeast, the situation is even more dire. In Dallas, pediatric ICU beds were no longer available for children earlier this week, and children’s hospitals in Louisiana reached capacity earlier this month. In Florida, which currently registers about one-fifth of the country’s COVID hospitals, about 54 children a day were admitted in early August.

“What we’re seeing is that a low-frequency event, requiring hospitalization, is much more common because so many children in our communities are currently being infected,” said Dr. Stephen Thacker, associate chief medical officer at Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah.

One-two punch

Previous COVID variants did not hit young people so hard. With many patients delaying routine medical care and elective procedures, some children’s hospitals have been able to act as a relief valve for health care in general, lending staff, equipment and sometimes even space to adult hospitals that were rife with COVID-19. patients.

In May, when the government authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for adolescents ages 12 to 15, health authorities hoped the injections would protect young people before returning to school.

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Siblings Jared McCauley, 14, second from left, and Maya McCauley, 15, second from right, wait to receive Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine at a free vaccination event held by the Gwinnett, Newton, Rockdale County Health Department at Discovery High School in Lawrenceville, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

But the vaccination rate lagged behind. And last month things started to shift.

The highly contagious delta variant, first identified in India in late 2020, has begun to rampage across the country as many Americans, vaccinated and not, traveled more freely and mingled without masks or other COVID precautions. That included children, who, after being incarcerated for the better part of a year, were particularly vulnerable to highly contagious diseases such as respiratory syncytial virus. RSV usually spreads in colder months and can cause pneumonia and bronchiolitis in small children.

That one-two punch from COVID and respiratory viruses like RSV is pushing many pediatric health systems to their limits.

Hospitals across the country are reporting 1,963 pediatric patients hospitalized with confirmed and suspected cases of COVID-19, according to the federal Department of Health and Human Services, a record number for the pandemic.

Severe illness from COVID-19 is still uncommon in children – approximately 1.3% of COVID-19 cases among children in Georgia have resulted in hospitalizations, according to the Children’s Hospital Association.

But doctors are still trying to understand the virus’s long-term impact on children, including Children’s Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, a rare condition that haunts some children who had COVID-19.

And while only a small percentage of children suffer from severe cases, enough children have become infected that children’s hospitals are filling up.

On Tuesday, 22 patients with COVID were hospitalized at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta hospitals, a spokeswoman said. In June there were none.

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Child Health Care of Atlanta. CONTRIBUTED

At Savannah Memorial Health Children’s Hospital, doctors and nurses treated eight pediatric and neonatal coronavirus patients, including a few newborns, on Tuesday.

Statewide, 135 children under the age of 18 were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19, according to the most recent information hospitals reported to HHS. Georgia had the country’s fourth-highest number of children currently hospitalized with COVID-19, after Texas, Florida and California.

Many of the children who are hospitalized, and especially those who require intensive care, have chronic underlying conditions such as diabetes or are immunocompromised. But a sad, growing trend in hospitals is that the children’s siblings and parents are also infected with COVID 19, doctors say.

“That’s one of our biggest concerns that we see right now,” said Dr. Brian Griner, who owns a pediatrics and internal medicine practice in Valdosta. “If you have little ones (who contract COVID), it easily takes care of the whole family, including the parents, in one fell swoop.”

Many, but not all, are families in which the parents and older children have not been vaccinated.

‘Throw the dice’

The increase in hospital admissions is due to an increase in the number of positive COVID-19 tests.

DPH said this week saw a 117% increase in cases among children aged 5 to 17 in Georgia from the previous week, and a 111% increase for children under the age of 4.

Experts attribute this in part to low vaccination coverage among young people.

According to federal data, only one in five Georgians between the ages of 12 and 17 have been fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, many of those unvaccinated children now attend personal schools, which in many places do not require masks.

Schools in the Atlanta metro area reported nearly 4,000 infections since the beginning of the fall semester as of Friday, and at least 19 Georgia school districts have closed temporarily, switched to online learning, or switched to a combination of face-to-face and digital learning within days of opening. education the school year.

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The exterior of Discovery High School in Lawrenceville, where a vaccination event was held on Wednesday, August 18, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Sarah McCool, a clinical associate professor at Georgia State University School of Public Health, said her number one concern among schools is the threat of continued transmission.

“We already have high community transmission in the Atlanta area, and it will only exacerbate transmission,” she said. “You’re still rolling the dice.”

dr. Hugo Scornik, a Conyers pediatrician who leads the Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said schools should encourage vaccination of teachers, staff and all eligible children and have proper procedures in place for quarantining students who may be have been exposed to COVID-19.

“All children must wear masks at school and schools must have procedures in place to enforce mask use and social distancing among the children,” he said.

Thacker, the Savannah physician, views the next two weeks as particularly critical to the state’s pediatric health system. Modeling suggests rising numbers of cases are likely, but Thacker said he is encouraged by a recent surge in vaccination rates.

“I hope our communities hear that message about vaccination,” he said. “I think there’s an opportunity for us not to be in the boat where we see other states.”

Staff writers J. Scott Trubey, Helena Oliviero, and Ariel Hart contributed to this article.

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