Officials at Ochsner Hospital for Children are starting to see an increase in hospitalizations in children ages 19 and under for COVID-19, though they're "not seeing a tremendous number of critically ill children."
Across the Ochsner system, 11 patients under 19 are currently hospitalized for COVID-19, whereas on Friday, July 30, there were 7. Locally, there are none at Ochsner Lafayette General.
Over the last week, the hospital has seen a 23.6% positivity rate, an increase from 10.8% at the beginning of July. Dr. Billy Lennarz, Assistant Chair of Pediatrics at Ochsner Hospital for Children, says this indicates there is "clearly a lot more virus in the pediatric community than there has been in the past."
"There have been moments in the past few weeks where nearly all pediatric ICU beds have been full," he said, adding the hospital has "never been in a situation where kids haven't gotten care, whether it was for COVID" or something else.
Lennarz explained during a media briefing Wednesday that the Delta variant of COVID-19 is believed to affect children the same way as the original strain. The difference is that kids under 12 make up the most susceptible population by virtue of not being vaccinated, Lennarz said.
Of all pediatric patients hospitalized who have had a positive COVID test, Lennarz said only a small number are hospitalized with COVID being their primary diagnosis.
"It's more common for someone to just coincidentally have a positive test," he said.
Dr. Katherine Baumgarten, Medical Director of Infection Control and Prevention at Ochsner Health, said there's no data that the vaccine affects child development or fertility. Mild side effects like fever, arm pain, and soreness are common. Side effects like paricarditis are rare, and have been reported less than 1,000 times in those who received the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines; they also resolved fairly quickly.
The doctors also addressed the upcoming school year, as a statewide mask mandate went into effect Wednesday that includes everyone 5 years old and up and all K-12 school districts regardless of vaccination status. Dr. Lennarz said he's happy that the mandate will happen uniformly across the state, adding it will provide "the safest possible platform for kids to go back to live education."
How the next few months look will depend on the levels of masking and vaccinations in those who are eligible. School systems that completely required masks for all ages last year were "very successful" and saw relatively few students missing school because of quarantine, Lennarz added.
Meanwhile, Baumgarter said COVID-19 in adults is difficult to predict, but also depends on the amount of vaccinations. Cases tend to begin to drop 2-4 weeks after mitigation measures are implemented, she said.
"We're not having a curve up, we're having a straight line in Louisiana ... we're seeing cases go up at the highest rate of anyone in the United States," she explained.
Students are feeling the effects of the pandemic when it comes to their mental health. Dr. Jill West, section head of child psychology, said studies show a high number of teenagers are facing uncertainty because of the pandemic and are reporting high levels of stress and depression. She urged parents to look for behavior changes like excessive clinginess, separation anxiety, changes in appetite, irritability, and in teenagers, an increase in risk-taking.
The doctors shared experiences with their own kids; Dr. Baumgarter said her three children are vaccinated because she wanted them to fully participate in school and not risk spreading COVID-19 or suffering long-term effects. Dr. West said one of her two children, ages 2 years and 5 months old and in a "vulnerable group," was exposed to COVID-19 at daycare and thus was kept home. Dr. Lennarz's 1-year-old granddaughter doesn't live in Louisiana, but if she did he said he would "have her in line, even in clinical trials for the vaccine."
Parents are advised to watch their kids for symptoms like poor appetite, lots of drinking and signs of dehydration, and a worsening cough. If symptoms don't improve after medication and fluids, it might be time for a doctor visit.
Ultimately, the doctors said, "As advisers, our goal is to do everything we can to keep kids in school."
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