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Pediatric COVID hospitalizations reach pandemic record in SC, Children’s Hospital Collaborative data shows

Published: Jan. 11, 2022 at 7:35 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 11, 2022 at 7:57 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - As the Omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to surge statewide, South Carolina hospitals on Tuesday reported a record-breaking number of children hospitalized with the virus.

According to the South Carolina Children’s Hospital Collaborative, which is comprised of four children’s hospitals across the state, 40 kids are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. The previous high was 38, which came at the height of the Delta variant surge.

Columbia-based pediatrician Dr. Deborah Greenhouse said this is evidence of a worrisome trend.

“It’s very concerning,” she said. “We have more children in the hospital, we have more children in our intensive care unit, we have more children in our emergency rooms. And that impacts our ability to care for everyone. Not just children with COVID, but everyone else who needs care as well.”

According to the Children’s Hospital Collaborative, of the 40 children currently hospitalized, only five percent are fully vaccinated.

24 are unvaccinated, and 14 are younger than five years old and therefore not yet eligible for the vaccine.

There are 10 children statewide with COVID-19 in critical care on Tuesday, and three on ventilators.

“That should be just a glaring sign for folks,” Greenhouse said.

These hospitalization numbers are further indication that the vaccines are effective for children, Greenhouse said.

“Does it prevent everyone from getting COVID at all?” she said. “No. It doesn’t do that. No vaccine does that. But does it do a very, very good job at keeping kids from ending up in the hospital with COVID, ending up in an intensive care unit, ending up on a ventilator and perhaps even dying? Yes, it does an excellent job of that.”

These record-breaking numbers come as hospitals in South Carolina are already feeling overwhelmed with the Omicron surge. According to the latest data from Prisma Health, the state’s largest health care system, they have 438 COVID-19 patient cases, 80 percent of which are in unvaccinated individuals.

Back on December 1, Prisma reported 85 patients with COVID-19 in their hospital systems.

Prisma is also seeing some staffing issues due to nurses and physicians getting sick with the virus.

“So there’s actually no hospital in South Carolina that doesn’t have staff challenges,” Dr. Helmut Albrecht, an infectious disease specialist at Prisma Health, said. “And that was true before Omicron, and Omicron is going to make those challenges worse.”

Albrecht does not expect the staffing challenges to go away anytime soon.

“The burnout amongst frontline staff is, as you can imagine, quite high,” he said. “And after two years with no real end in sight, it’s not getting easier.”

Doctors are fearful that as students return from winter break and gather in group settings, the pediatric hospitalization numbers could continue going up.

“We absolutely could continue to see these numbers rise for awhile longer,” Greenhouse said. “The children have just gone back to school and many of our schools are not taking optimal precautions. Omicron is incredibly contagious so it’s going to be very easy for the kids to spread it among themselves in school. We’ve already seen several schools have to go virtual. I anticipate that we will see more of that.”

As far as the patients she’s treating, Greenhouse said largely younger children are presenting with respiratory symptoms, largely in the upper airways. Additionally, she said Omicron cases in children can often lead to severe headaches and fatigue.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is also experiencing staff shortages at some public health departments due to the spike in cases. DHEC announced on Tuesday that from Wednesday, January 12 through Friday, January 14, Lexington County, Aiken County and Newberry County public health departments will be unable to provide preventive services, which include birth control, STI testing and pregnancy testing.

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