​​​COLUMBUS, Ohio — Pediatric intensive care units in Ohio are busy, and in some cases full, as more than 70 children battle COVID-19 in the state’s hospitals, officials said Tuesday. 

What You Need To Know

  • Ohio's children's hospitals are treating more than 70 COVID-19 patients

  • Child COVID-19 hospitalizations are nearing record leveles in Ohio

  • None of the hospitalized children in the state have been vaccinated, officials said

Doctors and officials with Ohio’s six children’s hospitals warned during a news conference Tuesday that the pediatric COVID-19 numbers are rising and their experts aren't sure when hospitalizations might peak. 

The COVID-19 hospitalizations are occurring alongside an unusually busy period for pediatric respiratory infections, the officials said. 

At the same time, officials said staffing levels are down, in part because health care workers are being forced to stay home to look after a child who is sick or quarantined.

The children currently hospitalized in Ohio are either too young to be vaccinated, or they were eligible but had not been immunized, said Dr. Patty Manning, Cincinnati Children’s hospital’s chief of staff. 

“We have been very full, and we anticipate being very full again this week because we're caring for all kinds of kids. We have bed constraints and we have staffing constraints,” Manning said. 

The hospital has seen its COVID-19 patient numbers quadruple since June into the double digits, Manning said. 

“The kids who are hospitalized now with COVID -- it’s not just that they're incidentally positive -- they are sick with COVID. They have COVID pneumonia. They have high respiratory needs. They're on high-flow nasal cannula or ventilators, and they are very sick,” she said. 

In Columbus, Nationwide Children’s said it has 26 COVID-19 patients, with nine in ICU beds and five on ventilators, according to CEO Tim Robinson. 

“Our urgent cares and emergency departments are as busy as they usually are during a peak viral season in winter, so really causing high wait times for families,” Robinson said. 

According to an Ohio Hospital Association update Monday, the state’s hospitals reported 67 child COVID-19 admissions for the week of Aug. 30, which was the second-highest report since at least Nov. 2020, when the earliest data is available.

Children’s hospital officials discussed the alarming trends with Gov. Mike DeWine, Ohio Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff and members of the Ohio General Assembly earlier in the day Tuesday, according to Nick Lashutka, president of the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association. 

In Cleveland, the pediatric ICU was full multiple times last week at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, President Patricia DePompei said.

“We were unable to accommodate requests for babies or children requiring intensive care interventions,” she said. “When this happens, we partner with our children's hospital colleagues to identify available critical care bed space, but this often adds additional time and distance needed to transports.” 

The hospital’s emergency room and acute care visits have risen significantly in recent weeks, leading to long wait times for families and resulting in more patients leaving the hospital before being evaluated.

President of ProMedica’s Russell J. Ebeid Children’s Hospital in Toledo Dawn Buskey said they are facing a staffing crisis which is forcing employees to work long hours. The hospital is no longer able to deploy its pediatric staff for other pandemic-related purposes like mass testing, she said. 

“We're just not able to do that now because we are so short-staffed,” she said. 

Dayton Children’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Adam Mezoff said the hospital had 13 COVID-19 patients on Tuesday, with about 40% of its patients in the ICU. At the beginning of the month, the hospital only had one or two COVID-19 patients at a time.

“These are numbers we did not see at the beginning of this pandemic,” he said. “Clearly, COVID has changed with the delta variant and we are seeing sicker and sicker children.”

Mezoff said hospital staff are exhausted, and he added that it’s making matters worse that many Ohioans aren’t wearing masks or getting vaccinated. 

“We pulled out all the levers. All of us are incentivizing our staff, but frankly, they're getting tired and partly they're tired because we're not choosing all the tools available to us to limit the number of kids that have to get sick with all of these things,” he said. “Our emergency rooms are seeing numbers that they never, ever have seen at this time of year.”

Licensed administrative staff at Akron Children's are helping out with the care of patients, officials said. Even some non-clinical staff are now working shifts where they help clinical staff, handing them tools or assisting with running supplies around the hospital.

President Grace Wakulchik said the hospital's urgent cares and emergency department are seeing double the patients than is normal for this time of year and at least 50% more patients than previous peak months.