COLUMBUS, Ohio — The number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus doubled in a week, a hospital official said Monday. 

Approximately 20 patients with COVID-19 were hospitalized on Monday, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rustin Morse told reporters during a news conference. Of those children, 15 were acutely ill, while five were admitted for reasons other than COVID-19, but tested positive for the virus upon admission.

“It is concerning to see that the pediatric volume of COVID patients in just one week in our hospital has doubled, and when you take into consideration what is going on in the southern states, and when you take into consideration that all of our schools are now open in central Ohio, I think the next couple of weeks — this could be very concerning if we do not take immediate actions,” Morse said. 

In a weekly update posted Monday, the Ohio Hospital Association reported that child COVID-19 hospital admissions in Ohio increased from 22 to 37.

Five children were in Nationwide’s intensive care unit on Monday and two were on ventilators, he said. At least one of the children in the ICU has no underlying medical condition.

The hospital is conducting more COVID-19 tests than at any previous point in the pandemic, which demonstrates the increase in community spread, Morse said. 

With schools back in session, hospital officials are calling for everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated. The other solution is “aggressive masking” in schools, Morse said. 

It is difficult to know if there is a direct link between kids returning to school and the increase in child hospitalizations, Morse said. But for the school districts that haven’t made masks mandatory yet, he said it’s time for them to reconsider. 

“In the southern states, we are seeing aggressive spread within schools of COVID,” he said. “It is an opportune time, in my opinion, to put a temporary mandatory masking guideline in place for all ages, including teachers within schools, just to get us through the next few weeks."

Alongside the rising COVID-19 numbers, Nationwide Children’s is treating an unusually high number of children with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a respiratory infection that usually peaks in the winter. Morse said 40 children were in the hospital with RSV on Monday. 

According to the CDC, RSV saw reduced circulation in the winter amid enhanced COVID-19 protocols. 

The hospital is not overwhelmed, and Morse said he was confident in Nationwide’s ability to maintain adequate staffing while continuing to accept referrals. 

Still, Morse stressed that the level of patients from respiratory infections is very rare for this time of year.

“Our emergency departments and urgent cares continue to be quite busy. Their volumes are much higher than usual for the summer months, and they are seeing quite a few children coming in with respiratory symptoms consistent with viral illnesses, including COVID,” he said.