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Pediatric COVID cases spike, Austin Public Health says, causing a 'domino effect' in hospitals and schools

Pediatric cases are on the rise in Austin as Austin Public Health urges children to get vaccinated. (Pixabay)

Pediatric COVID cases have surged to their highest daily levels yet during the omicron surge, causing a "domino effect" on schools and hospitals, Austin Public Health said in a press conference Friday.

Austin is currently at Stage 5, the highest level of COVID risk-based guidelines, as the community transmission rate remains at an alarming level with 1,896 cases per 100,000 residents in the past seven days. At this level of risk, the CDC recommends canceling school or moving extracurricular activities online, and per APH recommendations, K-12 schools are requiring masking as some schools briefly shut down due to the surge and current wintry weather.

The department urged residents to vaccinate their children as 91% of children who have been hospitalized due to COVID in the past two weeks are unvaccinated.

Of the 28 children in hospitals for COVID, none are vaccinated—a trend the area has been reporting for weeks, APH guest and Executive Director at Capital Area of Texas Regional Advisory Council Douglas Havron said.

"Tis the season for respiratory illnesses" in pediatric populations, APH Interim Director Adrienne Stirrup said, and more children at hospitals are being diagnosed with combinations of COVID, the flu and the common cold when they arrive.

While variants of the past have usually had little effect on children, APH said the omicron variant has posed a new threat on the youngest portion of the population in recent weeks because of low vaccination rates and rapid spread at schools. At Delta's peak, the city saw 36 new pediatric cases in a day, but Havron said 46 new cases were reported Thursday.

For parents that may have been apprehensive about getting their young children vaccinated, Stirrup said that studies have shown that the vaccine can safely protect children from risk of severe illness and hospitalization from COVID.

"We've now delivered millions of doses of vaccine to children in a safe way, and we know that we are seeing 90% protection from hospitalization and severe illness in children who are vaccinated," Stirrup said.

Chief epidemiologist Janet Pichette said the department is hopeful that Austin will see a dip in omicron numbers as a result of proper masking, testing and vaccinations,

"I like to think that we're close to the peak of where we are and that things will get better over the next week or so," Pichette said. "That's what the projections seem to show... hospitals are still continuing to be impacted, so when I start seeing numbers that tend to flatten out, I'll be a little bit more optimistic that we're on the downhill side."


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