As COVID cases rise to record levels, doctors at two of the region's top children’s hospitals say that croup is one of the common symptoms reported among kids infected with the omicron variant.
D.C.-area hospitals are reporting a record number of coronavirus cases among children, and cases are still rising. At Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C., 65 kids are hospitalized with COVID-19. That's more than double the previous peak we experienced during the delta wave in September.
At Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, pediatric COVID cases are three times higher now than the start of the pandemic, with pediatricians reporting one lingering symptom that’s been linked to the highly contagious variant.
"What we're seeing right now at Children's National Hospital is a record number of COVID-positive patients," said Dr. Susan Walley of Children’s National Hospital. She says most of the patients they're treating have not been vaccinated.
While most kids will have mild symptoms, or none at all, others have to be hospitalized after contracting COVID.
"I would say the majority of them are too young to be vaccinated because it has not yet been approved for children less than five years of age," Dr. Walley said.
At Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, it’s a similar story.
"We have two to three times as many children in the hospital now with COVID as we did in the first couple of weeks of the pandemic," said Dr. Aaron Milstone of Johns Hopkins.
"Our ER volumes are very high; our primary care volumes are very high," he said.
COVID caseloads at Hopkins have been climbing steadily since Thanksgiving, after omicron was detected and quickly became the dominant strain. Dr. Milstone said there is a common condition developing in many of the young patients they’re seeing.
"One thing that seems to be emerging as a unique phenomenon with omicron is we're seeing more upper respiratory infection," Dr. Milstone said. "So some parents may have heard the expression croup, which is that barking-like cough that some kids get in the winter."
Both doctors say the rise in pediatric cases is concerning, but it’s important to put those numbers into perspective.
"That's why we have more kids in the hospital. It's not because these strains are worse or causing more significant disease … It's because those rare complications are happening more frequently than we saw them happening earlier in the pandemic, just due to the sheer number of cases," Dr. Milstone said.
Despite the rise in cases and hospitalizations, doctors are hopeful we’re nearing a peak, and they're encouraging people to roll up their sleeves to stay safe in the weeks ahead.
"We're kind of hopeful that we're at this peak and coming down, but it doesn't mean that the tail won't last for another month and it doesn't mean there will be another wave sometime in the spring," Dr. Milstone said. "So it's not too late. I would encourage parents to go out and get their kids vaccinated."
"We are strongly, strongly supporting schools in continuing to stay open," Dr. Walley said. "But they need those tools, the tools like masking and the population to be vaccinated."