Experts warn that children are at increased risk for hospitalization of COVID-19 as cases of the omicron variant reach record highs. An average of 378 children were admitted to hospitals daily with COVID-19 for the week ending December 28. That’s a 66% jump from the previous week, says CNN, and breaks the previous record of 342 set during the delta variant surge.
Dr. Peter Hotez, an infectious disease expert and founding dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, suggests that some school districts should postpone in-school learning.
“It may be the case in some school districts where things are raging right now in terms of omicron for the next couple of weeks,” says Hotez, who is also a pediatrician. “It’s going to be a very challenging time.”
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration, says that although the omicron variant appears to be milder in adults, children can be hard hit.
“It appears to be more of an upper airway disease than a lower airway disease. That’s good for most Americans. The one group that may have a problem is very young children — toddlers — who have trouble with upper airway infections,” he said, according to CNN.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association say that nearly 200,000 children in the U.S. tested positive for COVID-19 during the third week of December, up 50% from the beginning of December, says Good Morning America.
Experts warn that the rising numbers are colliding with holidays as well as the cold and flu season, so parents should be extra vigilant. Dr. Allison Messina, a pediatric infectious disease specialist in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Dr. Sarah Ash Combs, a pediatric emergency medicine specialist in Washington, District of Columbia, offer these tips:
- Take omicron seriously. Ash Combs says that while children are less likely to become severely ill from COVID-19, they are not immune to grave illness and death, especially if they are not vaccinated. She says she has personally seen many previously healthy youngsters “get really taken out” by COVID-19. “I think as a parent, you just want to do anything you can to prevent putting your kid in that situation,” she says.
- Mask up in public. The experts tell GMA that when you are indoors, it’s best to wear a mask. “I would advocate for sending children to school both vaccinated and in masks because any level of multi-protection you can get is better,” says Ash Combs.
- If your child has symptoms, assume it’s COVID-19. The symptoms of omicron resemble those of the cold and flu, so if your child has a sore throat, fever, cough or runny nose, have them tested for COVID-19. In the meantime, keep the child at home following the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Cut back on large family gatherings. Messina says to limit contact with members outside your immediate family and make sure everyone you do encounter is vaccinated. “Be a little more cautious,” she suggested, until the numbers drop.
Keep up hand hygiene. At the beginning of the pandemic, we washed and sterilized everything from door handles to the packages delivered at the door, but Ash Combs says we now know that the virus is less likely to transmit on fomites, the inanimate objects we touch. She says teaching children to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds and avoiding putting things in their mouths, especially toddlers, is wise. “I’d say play dates from multiple households of little kids who just love to share their saliva and their sneezes and coughs, that’s probably not a good idea,” she told
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