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What the current COVID-19 surge is doing to children

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Children with COVID are checking into hospitals in record numbers. New data from the CDC show the number of children age 17 and under admitted with COVID-19 is 66% up from the week before, a two-thirds increase. Now, I'm just going to pause for a moment. Statistics are hard. This one matters. So I'll just say that means if 30 kids were in your area hospitals just last week, 50 are in there now on average. If you live in Ohio, it may be worse because pediatric and COVID hospitalizations in Ohio tripled in a week.

Every hospital is different, of course, and we're going to check in with one, the University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland, where Dr. Claudia Hoyen is director of pediatric infection control. Good morning.

CLAUDIA HOYEN: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How has your patient load been changing over time?

HOYEN: We are certainly starting to see an uptick. One of the things that's a little bit different about Rainbow is we had a very late start to delta. And so our caseload started going up in November and has started to steadily increase over the last few weeks, with a few more ICU admissions even in the last day. So I think that we are really on that starting edge of seeing children with COVID.

INSKEEP: I'm just going to underline one thing you said. You referred to ICU admissions. It is common to say - I've heard people say kids don't really get COVID, or if they - it may pass through them, but they're not affected seriously. You have had a number of ICU admissions over time of children.

HOYEN: Yes, yes. I know in the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of people were saying, well, you know, kids don't really get COVID. One of the reasons that was is because kids weren't really out in public. They were at home. They weren't at school. You know, last year, of course, holiday celebrations were much different than they were this year. And it's not true. Children do get COVID. Fortunately, they do not suffer the consequences that adults do at the same rates. You know, they're much more fortunate in that. However, that does not mean that children do not get sick with COVID, that children do not end up in the hospital, that children do not end up in ICUs. And there have been almost 800 children who have died from COVID during this pandemic.

INSKEEP: How do the vaccination patterns and percentages for children differ from adults at this point?

HOYEN: We're still lagging a little bit, especially in those 5- to 11-year-olds, at least here in northeast Ohio and I know in other parts of the country as well. And so as we're, you know, really in this time where everyone's been together, children are looking at going back to school. We have an extremely contagious variant. There are a lot of unprotected children in terms of being able to, you know, not be at risk for being in the hospital because we know the vaccines, although they don't completely stop the threat of getting COVID, they do really help in terms of making sure that patients, if they contract COVID, you know, that they don't end up in the hospital or in the ICU.

INSKEEP: Do you encounter families in your hospital from time to time who maybe aren't totally against vaccines? Maybe the parent says, I got vaccinated; I needed to do it for work, but they just didn't believe in it enough to have their kids vaccinated?

HOYEN: I think, especially with this vaccine, there's been a lot of confusion. You know, there's been a lot of information that makes it difficult for people who are in a time where so many people are afraid. This is like nothing we've ever suffered through in my time, your time, in the recent future. And so that fear just really makes people perhaps hear things that they wouldn't necessarily have followed in other times. And so yes, we do have people who have not had their children vaccinated.

INSKEEP: Of course, now the FDA has approved booster shots for younger kids. What advice are you giving, and what preparations are you making?

HOYEN: Yeah, they - as we're looking to next week for the final determination on that...

INSKEEP: Right.

HOYEN: ...Many of those children are not quite eligible yet because they - a lot of them have recently been vaccinated. But I'm hoping that those parents who've had their kids vaccinated will go ahead and get it done when the time is right.

INSKEEP: Dr. Claudia Hoyen, Happy New Year, and good luck in the weeks ahead.

HOYEN: Yes. Stay safe, and be well.

INSKEEP: She's director of pediatric infection control at the University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.