SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Chatham County, more children are becoming infected with the virus.
Cases in children up to 19-years-old have increased by 333% over the last two weeks, according to Dr. Lawton Davis, director of the Coastal Health District.
Five children are admitted at Memorial Health’s Dwaine and Cynthia Willett Children’s Hospital with COVID-19, as of Tuesday. There are 108 COVID-19 patients in total at Memorial Health, according to Pediatric Infectious Disease Physician Dr. Stephen Thacker.
Dr. Thacker said most kids testing positive for COVID-19 have at least one underlying health condition or are unvaccinated, if eligible to receive the vaccine.
Despite the highly contagious delta variant, Dr. Thacker said kids are still suffering less than adults who get the virus.
“We’re recognizing that many more children were infected with the prior variants of this strain than we realized,” Dr. Thacker said. “It’s just they didn’t have symptoms. So I fully expect that there’s going to be children who are infected and they’re going to have little to no symptoms, many of them will have very mild symptoms.”
The children’s hospital is at capacity but not out of beds, according to Administrative Director Heather Newsome.
Newsome said the hospital is seeing an increase in other illnesses, including Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).
“We have been very fortunate in the fact that we have not run out of beds,” Newsome said. “We are planning — just like we would with any other surge in patients — if we ended up needing to go to another location for patients, what would that look like and where would we make those spaces available.”
On Monday, 600 patients passed through both the pediatric and adult emergency room, Newsome said. She described seeing 300 patients as a typical busy day.
Newsome estimates a quarter of emergency room patients are seeking treatment for COVID-19 concerns.
As many students return to the classroom, Dr. Thacker said time will tell if schools are a source of community spread.
“Every school system should be looking at every strategy that helps keep them healthy and well in school, he said. “That includes masking and that includes listening to the guidance from the CDC or your partners over at the department of public health on quarantining when it’s indicated.”
Dr. Thacker said the most likely scenario is that children are being exposed to the virus by unvaccinated and unmasked adults.
The hospital is urging parents to get vaccinated to slow the spread to children.
“Just because your child can’t get vaccinated, you absolutely still can,” Newsome said. “And that is a method of protection to your child who has not reached the 12-year-old mark yet.”
The FDA is currently researching the COVID-19 vaccine for use in children under 12-years-old. Dr. Thacker estimates it may be approved for use near the end of 2021.