INDIANAPOLIS — New cases of COVID-19 in children continue to increase as the delta variant surges across the country. Almost 94,000 new pediatric cases were reported last week, according to the latest data from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association.
In Indianapolis, doctors at Riley Hospital for Children have noticed the rise in coronavirus cases. Last week, the team at Riley treated at least 36 children with COVID-19. The majority of them were under 12 and not eligible for the shot.
The increase in pediatric cases is not just happening in Indiana.
Experts say this is a "continuing substantial increase" in cases that is happening nationwide.
Two weeks ago 72,000 kids were diagnosed with COVID-19 and the week before that about 32,000 cases were reported, which is an 84 percent jump that the American Academy of Pediatrics called “substantial.”
As the delta variant spreads and students return to school, people voiced concerns that children are more vulnerable to the virus, especially those that aren't yet old enough to get vaccinated.
In preparation for the school year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended students and staff wear masks at K-12 schools as a COVID-19 safety measure. This recommendation was made in part because the vaccines aren't yet authorized for children younger than 12.
While there is certainly a rise in COVID-19 cases among children, it's still unclear if the delta variant is more dangerous to children. Data continues to show it’s rare for children with COVID-19 to be hospitalized or die.
“So, the data are not fully in, but we are very concerned about the numbers of infections that we’re seeing in children,” said Gabe Kelen, professor and chair at Johns Hopkins University’s Department of Emergency Medicine.
From Tennessee to Texas, health departments are reporting that pediatric hospitals are filling up. Part of the issue can be attributed to the rise in Respiratory Syncytial Virus.
RSV is another severe respiratory virus. It typically comes around in the winter but it's unusually sweeping through the summer. As a result, pediatric hospitals are seeing their ICUs fill up with both COVID and RSV cases.
Like Riley Hospital for Children, other children's hospitals are reporting significant increases in COVID-19 patients.
In an Aug. 2 Facebook post, Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital in Louisiana said at least 62 school-aged kids were admitted to the emergency room for COVID-19 in July compared to just 18 in June.
Heather Haq, a pediatric hospitalist at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, also said there was a recent spike in child COVID-19 patients.
Haq explained she's been on the frontline as a coronavirus doctor for the entire pandemic. In a series of tweets on July 30, she shared what it's recently been like at her hospital.
After months of only a few or no pediatric coronavirus cases, she said her hospital is now seeing "infants, children, and teens with COVID pouring back into the hospital, more and more each day."
Haq went on to say she's seeing more patients who have both COVID-19 and RSV. She also said there's an increasing number of very young hospitalized coronavirus patients at her hospital.
"This time around I’m seeing more COVID pneumonia in younger children (previously was seeing COVID pneumonia mainly in tweens and up), now seeing in neonates to preschoolers," Haq said.
Dr. Tony Moody, a professor of pediatrics at Duke University, said more analysis needs to be done to determine what is leading to the rise in child COVID-19 cases.
"We need more studies and testing to understand whether the hospitalizations are due to more cases and therefore more severe cases, or whether they’re due to the virus itself causing more severe disease,” he told VERIFY via email.
A spokesperson from the AAP also said it’s too early to tell how the delta variant is affecting children.
“Right now, there is no data to show if the variant is more dangerous to children, and so it’s premature for our experts to comment on it,” the representative said.
Haq has some recommendations with the rising cases.
Don’t visit newborns at this time unless necessary.
"I saw many infants <2 months old in hospital this week, requiring high flow oxygen/respiratory support for both RSV and/or COVID. Both viruses are circulating way too high right now, so please postpone visits to tiny babies," Haq said.
She also recommends, following public health guidelines, masking up, getting tested if you feel sick even if you're already vaccinated, and getting vaccinated.