The omicron coronavirus variant has found a new population to exploit — the nation’s estimated 5 million eligible but unvaccinated children — and that has spurred a 35 percent increase nationwide in pediatric hospitalizations over the past week, according to new federal health data.
Two dozen states and New York City reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention an increase in pediatric hospitalizations — that is, children 17 and younger — as the virus surges nationwide.
The 199,000 pediatric COVID-19 cases reported nationwide for the week ending Dec. 23 represent a 50 percent increase in positive cases for that age group since the beginning of December. More than 7.5 million children — or about 1 in 10 in the United States — have tested positive for the virus since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020.
This is the 20th week in a row with pediatric COVID-19 cases above 100,000. Since the first week in September, more than 2.5 million U.S. children have become infected with the coronavirus illness.
The spread of the illness among children is keenly felt in New York City, where the number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 increased fivefold. About half of those kids are under the age of 5 and not eligible to get vaccinated.
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Related: NYC Sees Huge Spike In Children Hospitalized With COVID-19
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, which susses out CDC data to provide insight into virus trends among children, said that so far, it appears that severe COVID-19 illnesses are uncommon.
“However,” the groups said on the AAP website, “there is urgent need to collect more data to assess the severity of illness related to new variants as well as the longer-term impacts of the pandemic on children, including ways the virus may harm the long-term physical health of infected children, as well as its emotional and mental health effects.”
Experts warn the pediatric cases reported so far may be a calm before the storm brewing in holiday gatherings.
“It’s almost like you can see the train coming down the track and you’re just hoping it doesn’t go off the rails,” Dr. Claudia Hoyen, director of pediatric infection control at UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, told CNN.
“It’s going to be a very interesting couple of weeks. We’ve just had all of these kids mixing together with everybody else during Christmas. We have one more holiday to get through with New Year’s, and then we’ll be sending everybody back to school.”