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Riley Hospital sees increase in pediatric cases as delta variant surges

In the last few days, Riley has treated at least 36 children with COVID-19, the majority under age 12 and not eligible for the vaccine.

INDIANAPOLIS — As the delta variant surges across the country, pediatricians are seeing a flood of children enter the ER. 

Doctors at Riley Hospital for Children have noticed the increase within the last month.  

“If you look at the numbers we had over the last few days, they’re much higher than what we would’ve seen during two or three weeks back in January,” said Dr. John Christenson, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Riley. 

In the last few days, the team at Riley has treated at least 36 children with COVID-19. The majority of them were under 12 and not eligible for the shot.  

Even though many of the cases were not severe, doctors warn they can be.  

“Some children are very sick and have to be hospitalized, and some have to go to an intensive care unit. Sadly, when you look at our numbers nationwide, children have died from coronavirus,” Christenson said.  

The increase in pediatric cases is not just happening in Indiana. 

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association, nearly 72,000 new pediatric cases were reported last week. That’s compared to roughly 39,000 cases reported the week before, which is an 84 percent jump. American Academy of Pediatrics called it “substantial.” 

COVID-19 is also disrupting local classrooms, with more than 100 local kids quarantined within the first few weeks of school.  

Christenson believes part of the reason is restrictions being loosened and families letting their guard down.  

“The prevention is in the hands of the adults and the people who can get vaccinated, who can use masks to protect the children,” he said. “They are worried about the children, but they don’t take the actions necessary to protect them.” 

On top of COVID-19, doctors are also seeing an increase in RSV infections, a respiratory virus that can make breathing difficult. Usually, Riley doctors see zero cases in August, but last week, they had 20. 

The increase in infections started happening after mandates were lifted.  

“We have an RSV season in the middle of August that we’ve never seen in 21 years here,” said Christenson.

Doctors say the vaccine and masks are key to protecting the younger age groups that aren’t yet eligible for the vaccine.  

“Many parents wonder what they can do to protect their child. The best thing they can do is protect themselves,” Christenson said.  

The CDC is working to determine if the delta variant is causing more severe cases in children. The director said the research is complicated with the combination of increased cases and relaxed restrictions.   

As of late July, about 4.2 million children tested positive for COVID-19. Children and teens now represent 19 percent of reported cases.


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