An increasing number of young children are being hospitalized with COVID-19 across the United States, thanks in part to the omicron variant sweeping the nation.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of adolescents hospitalized with COVID-19 increased by 30% between Dec. 18 and Dec. 25, the most recent date for which data is available. That’s an average of about 260 children being admitted to the hospital each day.
Nationwide, around 2,000 children are hospitalized with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19, up from about 700 at the beginning of the month.
The vast majority of both children and adults hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.
Pediatric COVID cases and hospitalizations are increasing faster in some states than others. In New York City, child hospitalizations increased by nearly 5 times the amount at the start of December.
The number of children testing positive for the virus has also skyrocketed in recent weeks, and overall hospitalizations (for both children and adults) statewide topped 5,550 for the first time since late February.
The surge forced government officials to retool school testing policies, and the amount of children being randomly tested for COVID-19 will soon double from 40,000 to 80,000 when students return to school on Jan. 3.
Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday said nearly two million COVID tests will be sent to New York City public schools.
Hochul noted that the omicron variant "is affecting children more than the past variants” and added that the new procedures aim to keep as many students in school as possible.
“We saw the failed experiment, despite the very best efforts of incredibly hard-working, passionate teachers who did their very best with remote teaching and the parents who were just pulling their hair out at kitchen tables trying to make sure that it worked successfully,” Hochul said of remote learning.
None of the hospitalized 5-11 year olds admitted over the past week were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, despite vaccinations having been approved for the age group in late October. Around half of the admissions were for children under the age of five, thus vaccine ineligible.
Washington, D.C. has also seen a spike in adolescent COVID hospitalizations. At Children's National Hospital, nearly half – 48% – of COVID tests are coming back positive, up from a previous high of around 17%.
“Most of the COVID cases I've seen, and certainly the ones I've needed to admit to the hospital, are unvaccinated children,” Dr. Sarah Ash Combs, a pediatric emergency room doctor at Children’s National, told Spectrum News on Tuesday.
“I've seen a few more cases amongst those under five,” she added. “So we're talking about those little kids, babies and toddlers who just aren't eligible for the vaccine. And they're coming in often with [a] cough, sometimes with actual trouble breathing.”
In Florida, new COVID cases among children 5-11 have more than doubled in recent weeks, while the amount of vaccinations have slowly gone up. Currently, only 14% of the 1.6 million 5-11 year olds in the state are vaccinated.
And in Ohio, COVID hospitalizations among adolescents 0-17 have increased by just 1.5% from a week ago, but has jumped 125% since a month ago, according to the Ohio Hospital Association
The surge among unvaccinated children, particularly in New York, has prompted concerns in other parts of the country, where pediatric hospitalizations are rising at a slower rate.
“Unfortunately NY is seeing an increase in pediatric hospitalizations (primarily amongst the unvaccinated), and they have similar 5-11yo vaccination rates,” California state epidemiologist Erica Pan wrote on Twitter. “Please give your children the gift of vaccine protection as soon as possible as our case [numbers] are increasing rapidly.”
In New York state, around 72% of the state’s 1.3 million people aged 12-17 had received at least one dose of a vaccine, compared to 27% of the 5-11 year olds statewide; California, almost 64% of the 3.1 million 12-17 year olds had completed their primary series of COVID vaccinations, compared to 76% of the 3.5 million eligible 5-11 year olds.
While scientists are still studying the omicron variant, early data shows that while the strain is more transmissible than previous iterations of the virus, those who are fully vaccinated – and boosted – against COVID-19 will likely experience mild to no symptoms should they experience a breakthrough case.
CDC officials did, however, revise the estimates of how many COVID-19 cases were caused by the variant on Tuesday. Previously, the agency said around 73% of all COVID cases from the week ending Dec. 18 were caused by the omicron strain; that number has now been revised to 22% of cases.
Data released by federal health officials on Tuesday shows that the omicron variant of the coronavirus accounts for about 59% of new cases in the U.S. for the week ending Dec. 25, up from 23% the week prior.