As COVID cases rise across the D.C. area, several school districts have already begun classes, and even more students are heading back next week.
Doctors are urging everyone to get vaccinated to protect our most vulnerable populations; that includes children under age 12, who aren’t yet eligible for the shots. The urgent message comes as Children’s National Hospital in D.C. says they’re just as busy now as they were during the peak of the pandemic last winter.
"We have had much sicker children admitted to the hospital over the past three to four weeks," said Dr. Alexandra Yonts, an infectious diseases physician at Children’s National Hospital.
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Children’s National Hospital is reporting a dramatic increase in young coronavirus patients. It’s a trend we’ve seen nationwide, with more than 180,000 new pediatric COVID-19 cases added over the past week.
"It was somewhat phenomenal," Dr. Yonts said. "It went from zero COVID cases and zero MIS-C or post-COVID type of kids, to, you know, a half dozen to a dozen overnight."
Dr. Yonts said even though children are less likely to develop serious symptoms or die from COVID-19 compared to adults, some can get very sick.
"Several of these kids were intubated in the ICU and also infected with multiple other respiratory viruses, which likely contributed to them being sicker," she said.
Children’s National currently has 13 patients hospitalized with COVID. To put that into perspective, the hospital says their peak number was 18 COVID patients, which occurred during the winter surge we experienced late last year and early this year.
But this current rise in COVID cases is coinciding with a rare summer surge of winter illnesses, as more children mingle. Their immune systems haven’t had to fight off viruses for more than a year.
"We are seeing the RSV and parainfluenza and those sort of viral respiratory presentations, as well as COVID and lots of other usual summertime things," Dr. Yonts said.
The hospital is expected to remain busy over the coming weeks as more students across our region head back to school.
Despite the concern from some, Dr. Yonts says the return to the classroom can be done safely, stressing the benefits that many missed out on last year during virtual learning.
"For most kids, and this is what I've heard over and over from my patients, is that the benefits of being back in school, both educationally, socially, physically, mentally, for the parents, for everyone, far outweigh the risk as long as it's being done safely," she said.
The same precautions continue to apply, reminding all of us to do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19.
"To make sure that everyone is wearing a mask and that make sure that everyone who can be vaccinated is vaccinated," Dr. Yonts said. "And when you have a sick kid, keeping them home, letting parents know and being flexible."
Doctors continue to emphasize that the vaccine is our best defense against the coronavirus and can help limit the number of pediatric patients in the ICU.