CLEVELAND — Children’s hospitals across Ohio are sounding the alarm. They’re seeing more children in intensive care units, and more children on ventilators as we continue to deal with the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19.
The warning came from a virtual press conference hosted by the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association with the CEOs and clinical leaders of six hospitals. They say they’re not only dealing with a spike in COVID cases, they’re also seeing historically high numbers of RSV cases, which typically don’t pick up until the fall and winter months.
“We are in a perfect storm,” said Chief of Staff at Cincinnati Children’s, Dr. Patty Manning-Courtney. As hospitals fill up with pediatric cases of COVID, RSV and mental health issues, it’s “putting a significant strain on our hospital systems," Manning-Courtney said.
Cincinnati Children’s was one hospital represented in the virtual gathering, along with Akron Children’s Hospital, UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, Dayton Children’s, Nationwide Children’s, and ProMedica Russell J. Ebeid Children’s Hospital.
Every hospital leader shared concern about the rising number of children being admitted. Rainbow Babies provides 24/7 support to community emergency departments, urgent cares and referring clinics across 16 counties.
“We have had multiple occasions over the past week where a pediatric intensive care unit at Rainbow was full and we were unable to accommodate requests for babies or children requiring intensive care interventions," said hospital president Dr. Patricia DePompei.
As of Tuesday, Rainbow has more than 70 children hospitalized on an inpatient basis. DePompei said COVID-19 positivity rates among kids in Cleveland have reached 11%, mirroring what all the other hospitals reported. The number of children being seen in the Rainbow main campus emergency room is higher than has been seen in five years.
The hospitals' leaders say they keep in contact with each other at least once a week to compare notes and pour over the latest data. Their consensus was clear: The best way to protect a child who cannot yet be vaccinated is for the adults around them to get vaccinated.
“The risk of vaccine is minuscule and practically non-existent compared to the risk of getting COVID if you’re an adult or a child,” said Manning-Courtney.
As for the notion that children are largely being spared during the pandemic, the hospitals' leaders said delta is a different beast.
“Last year, we were relieved to be able to say that kids weren’t getting that sick,” explained Manning-Courtney. “I can’t say that anymore. I have to say that I’m worried and that we’re concerned, and your child could get sick, and there’s no way to predict who’s going to be the child that gets very, very ill.”
Everyone also stressed the importance of masks, saying the evidence of their efficacy is overwhelming. Dayton Children’s Chief Medical Officer and Vice President, Dr. Adam Mezoff, said masks “are critically important, they are safe, they’re effective. We have providers in them all day. It does not lower their oxygenation level. We’ve used them in surgery for centuries now.”
For parents concerned that mask mandates are affecting their child’s mental health, Akron Children’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert McGregor said he checked with his behavioral health colleagues.
"They’ve not seen an increase in behavioral health services linked to wearing a mask at one of the schools in the neighborhood where I live," he said.
In Akron, Akron Children’s Hospital President & CEO Grace Wakulchik said “we saw over 500 patients in our ED and Urgent Cares and Quick Care just yesterday…probably about double what we could normally see at this time of year.”
This early spike in child hospitalizations is all the more concerning given the winter virus season is almost upon us. As Ohio Children’s Association President Nick Lashutka stressed, “We don’t know where the peak is…we don’t know what this year’s flu season will bring.”
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