With the delta variant of COVID-19, children and youths are experiencing “a lot more infections and transmissions” than in the past, Novant Health Inc. healthcare officials said Tuesday.
Novant has said about one-fourth of its COVID-19 cases are those ages 17 and younger, while the level could be as much as 30% overall in Forsyth County and statewide.
“Because of that, we’re seeing a lot more hospital visits, a lot more admissions and a fair increase in admissions to our pediatric ICU,” said Dr. Eugene Daugherty, medical director for Novant’s Hemby Children’s Hospital in Charlotte.
“About 95% of those being admitted are unvaccinated, whether those under 12 who can’t be vaccinated and those who are in the age range where they can be vaccinated.”
Daugherty said that while adults tend to represent most of the serious COVID-19 cases, some children and youths are getting seriously ill.
As social distancing and mask mandates were eased in recent months, the children’s hospital has seen more co-infections among patients.
“While we have the flexibility to move things around to have more (pediatric ICU) beds, people really need to understand it is at a point where we are quite limited and it’s getting tougher to take care of all these patients,” Daugherty said.
“I suspect those numbers will continue to increase over the next several weeks ... for both children and adults.”
Daugherty said a chief concern for him is the long-term impact of COVID-19 on children and youths.
“These downstream effects may not show up for a week or two or even longer, but they could have some significant consequences,” Daugherty said.
“We’re going to have to see how things go for the next few months because we are going to some of these patients with long COVID.
Dr. David Priest, a Novant infectious diseases expert, said Tuesday he has been advising school districts to continue to emphasize mask wearing, social distancing and conducting outdoor activities when and where appropriate.
Some school districts are coming up on the first month of the 2021-22 school year, at which time some boards of education said they would review their mask mandate policies as it relates to community spread of the delta variant.
“From my standpoint, I would encourage all school systems to mask, to make sure they are following all students who are sick, keep those who are sick at home, continue contract tracing,” Priest said.
“It seems a strange time to abandon the things that have proven — over and over again in school systems across the country — to be effective.”
The number of children infected has grown.
Since the middle of August, when schools reopened, children and teens under the age of 17 have gone from representing 20% of new cases in Forsyth to 29%.
Statewide, about 33% of new cases statewide are in that age range.
Forsyth health director Joshua Swift has said most COVID-19 cases are being brought into K-12 schools and then circulating among students. Public health officials have pointed to extracurricular school activities, such as sports, and students gathering off-campus, as key factors.
Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious disease specialist with Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, said last week that it remains unclear whether the delta variant is more contagious in children. He said the longer it takes to figure it out, the less likely that it is a factor.
Swift said it will take another week or so to determine “whether we’ll have a bump” in local cases as a result of the Labor Day holiday weekend.