Vaccination and 'common sense' urged amid surge in pediatric COVID cases
The number of children with COVID-19 hospitalized at the state's two largest pediatric hospitals have eclipsed previous records, and hospital officials say it's all part of a broader problem created by the prevalent omicron variant and a failure to vaccinate.
Dr. John Schreiber, chief of infectious diseases at Connecticut Children's Medical Center, described omicron as prevalent but likely not any more virulent than previous manifestations of the coronavirus.
At Connecticut Children's Medical Center, a running average of two admitted children per day from the beginning of the pandemic turned into 79 admitted patients in the first six days of the new year, according to hospital data. That includes 17 children who were checked in on Tuesday and 14 each on Wednesday and Thursday.
This week comes on the heels of the busiest single month of the pandemic, with hospital data showing 96 cases in December.
Schreiber said it's "a numbers game." He pointed to the sheer amount of cases affecting people of all ages across Connecticut and the country. State data on Friday showed 24.55% of all reported tests came back positive in the prior 24 hours, and 10,076 new cases brought the state's total confirmed and probable cases to 573,711 since the pandemic began.
The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients — 1,810 — increased by 26 from the day before. New London County had 110 hospitalizations Friday, up by five from the day before. Based on Friday's data, 67.3% of those hospitalized are not fully vaccinated — meaning they didn't have at least one Johnson & Johnson vaccine dose or two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
Most pediatric COVID-19 patients from the region are treated at Connecticut Children's Medical Center and Yale New Haven Hospital instead of at local hospitals.
Schreiber said Connecticut Children's is seeing more children because the omicron variant is so prevalent, but emphasized "not all of them were admitted because of COVID."
That means some children who came to the hospital for other reasons end up testing positive for the coronavirus during routine screenings. Schreiber could not specify the number of COVID-positive children who showed up because of symptoms compared to those who coincidentally tested positive, but said there is an ongoing effort at children's hospitals nationwide to better document that information.
Patients who do visit Connecticut Children's because of COVID-19 symptoms don't usually end up in the intensive care unit, according to Schreiber.
This week, no patients with COVID-19 were in the ICU or on ventilators, data shows.
"I don't think omicron is more virulent than any of the previous versions, probably less virulent," Schreiber said. Those that do get very sick typically have predisposing issues such as diabetes, obesity or asthma, he said, or are among a medically fragile population that requires continuous care for various conditions and is susceptible to any infection.
Statewide data from the Department of Public Health shows there has been one confirmed death among children from birth to age 9 since the pandemic started. There were four confirmed deaths of children ages 10 to 19.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics reveal that state numbers reflect a nationwide spike in pediatric cases. Averaged over the week ending Wednesday, hospital admissions hit a peak of 797 per day. That was an increase of 80.8% over the previous week.
Yale New Haven Hospital has admitted 94 children since the beginning of December — 22 of them during the first six days of the new year. Comparatively, there were 155 cases total in 2021 and 93 in 2020.
The hospital attributed the "huge increase" primarily to unvaccinated children and said doctors strongly encourage eligible children to get vaccinations and booster shots.
The CDC on Wednesday expanded its recommendations to include booster doses for children 12 to 15 years old. It said children in that age group should receive a booster shot five months after their initial Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination series.
Schreiber could not provide the percentage of patients at Connecticut Children's with COVID-19 who weren't vaccinated, but speculated numbers reflect overall trends. "I will say it's pretty clear that nationally, if you're fully immunized and boosted, you're highly unlikely to end up in the hospital. And anecdotally we think that's true in children, as well," he said.
He pointed to data from countries, such as South Africa and England, that have already been through omicron waves when he suggested the state could be through the omicron surge in about four to six weeks. That's when herd immunity should be reached, based on the number of vaccinated people combined with those who come down with the illness.
"Anybody who is unimmunized is going to get omicron in Connecticut," he said.
Connecticut schools reported 7,612 cases of COVID-19 among students for the week ending Wednesday, according to data from the state Department of Public Health. There were 2,761 identified as unvaccinated, 1,901 identified as fully vaccinated and 2,950 with no vaccine information.
The total was up from 1,363 the week before.
Schreiber said with a continued push for vaccination and "common-sense" measures like mask-wearing and local public health surveillance, it should remain safe for children to attend school.
"I think we'll get through this and we can stay open safely," he said. "I do think if we throw up our hands and don't do the obviously common sense public things, it would be overwhelming and it would be difficult to keep the schools open."