Officials at the Ochsner Hospital for Children are beginning to see an increase in hospitalizations among children 19 and under for COVID-19, although they are “not seeing a huge number of critically ill children.”
In the Ochsner system, 11 patients under the age of 19 are currently hospitalized for COVID-19, while there were 7 on Friday, July 30. Locally, there are none at Ochsner Lafayette General.
Over the past week, the hospital saw a 23.6% positivity rate, up from 10.8% in early July. dr. Billy Lennarz, Assistant Chair of Pediatrics at Ochsner Hospital for Children, says this indicates there are “clearly more viruses in the pediatric community than in the past.”
“There have been times in recent weeks when almost all children’s ICU beds have been full,” he said, adding that the hospital “has never been in a situation where children have not received care, whether it was for COVID” or something different.
Lennarz explained at a media briefing on Wednesday that the Delta strain of COVID-19 is believed to affect children in the same way as the original strain. The difference is that children under 12 are the most susceptible population because they have not been vaccinated, Lennarz said.
Of all the pediatric patients who have been hospitalized and have had a positive COVID test, Lennarz said only a small number have been hospitalized with COVID as their primary diagnosis.
“It’s more common for someone to happen to have a positive test,” he said.
dr. Katherine Baumgarten, medical director of infection control and prevention at Ochsner Health, said there is no data that the vaccine affects children’s development or fertility. Mild side effects such as fever, arm aches and pain are common. Side effects such as paricarditis are rare and have been reported less than 1,000 times in those who received the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines; they were also resolved fairly quickly.
The doctors also talked about the upcoming school year, as a statewide mask mandate went into effect Wednesday that includes everyone ages 5 and older and all K-12 school districts, regardless of vaccination status. dr. Lennarz said he is pleased that the mandate will take place uniformly across the state, adding that it will “provide the safest possible platform for children to return to the life of education.”
What the next few months look like will depend on the level of masking and vaccinations among those who qualify. School systems that required full masks for all ages last year were “very successful” and saw relatively few students miss school due to quarantine, Lennarz added.
Meanwhile, Baumgarter said COVID-19 in adults is difficult to predict, but also depends on the amount of vaccinations. Cases usually begin to decline 2-4 weeks after mitigation measures are implemented, she said.
“We don’t have a curve up, we have a straight line in Louisiana … we see the number of cases rising at the fastest rate of anyone in the United States,” she explained.
Students are feeling the effects of the pandemic when it comes to their mental health. dr. Jill West, head of child psychology, said studies show that a large number of teens are facing uncertainty due to the pandemic and report high levels of stress and depression. She urged parents to look for behavioral changes such as excessive affection, separation anxiety, changes in appetite, irritability, and an increase in risk-taking in teens.
The doctors shared experiences with their own children; dr. Baumgarter said her three children were vaccinated because she wanted them to go to school fully and not risk spreading COVID-19 or suffer long-term consequences. dr. West said one of her two children, aged 2 years and 5 months and in a “vulnerable group”, was exposed to COVID-19 at daycare and thus kept at home. The 1-year-old granddaughter of Dr. Lennarz doesn’t live in Louisiana, but if she did, he said he’d “have her in line even in clinical trials for the vaccine.”
Parents are advised to monitor their children for symptoms such as poor appetite, drinking heavily, and signs of dehydration and a worsening cough. If symptoms do not improve after medication and fluids, it may be time for a doctor’s visit.
In the end, the doctors said, “As counselors, our goal is to do everything we can to keep children in school.”
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