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UPMC: COVID in kids rising

“Young children are at a higher risk for becoming infected now than at any other time during the pandemic,” said Dr. John Williams, chief of pediatric infectious diseases, UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

“Unlike what many have heard, children do get sick with COVID, and they can transmit the virus to family, friends and other members of the community,” Williams said.

Williams noted that UPMC Children’s Hospital, Pittsburgh, is seeing an increase in children being treated for COVID-19 at clinics and emergency rooms, some leading to hospitalizations. Williams cited two key reasons for the increase in infections in children — a relaxation in mitigation efforts, and the delta variant, which is more contagious and more easily spread.

“It’s nowhere near as bad as some of our colleagues around the country or some children’s hospitals, but we don’t want it to get that bad. One of the key ways to not get that bad is to protect our children with masks and vaccines,” Williams said.

Williams stated that vaccines not only protect young children, such as those under 12 who are not eligible to be vaccinated, but also the vulnerable members of the population.

Testing is also an important part of mitigating the virus, and Williams encouraged anyone with a fever or other respiratory symptoms to be tested.

“Most children who are getting sick and virtually all the children who are getting hospitalized are unvaccinated children. And while many have co-morbidities of other underlying medical conditions, many of them are otherwise healthy children,” he said.

Williams joined Dr. Rachel Sackrowitz, chief medical officer, UPMC ICU Service Center and executive vice chair of the Department of Critical Care Medicine, Pitt and UPMC; and Dr. Derek C. Angus, executive vice president and chief innovation officer, UPMC and chair of the Department of Critical Care Medicine, University of Pittsburgh and UPMC, during a Zoom press briefing Wednesday.

Sakrowitz spoke to an increase in hospitalizations in the sector of the population that is eligible for vaccinations, but has not gotten them for whatever reason.

The average age of patients being hospitalized for COVID-19 is almost 10 years younger than it was at the peak of the pandemic in December 2020, Sakrowitz said.

“Delta is spreading among people we previously considered less vulnerable. We’re seeing a number of healthy people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s being admitted at UPMC and becoming critically ill, needing ICU care,” Sakrowitz said.

“This is concerning. These are people who have few other health issues and would otherwise be looking forward to many healthy years ahead. But the overwhelming majority have one thing in common — they are not vaccinated against COVID-19,” she added.

Sakrowitz noted that the risk of being hospitalized for people who aren’t vaccinated is 29 times higher than the risk for those who have been vaccinated.

“Over the past several weeks, we have seen as much as 19 times more unvaccinated patients ages 50 and younger admitted to UPMC hospitals compared to vaccinated people,” she said.

Sakrowitz shared what health care professionals have gone through during the pandemic and are now facing again due to the rise in cases.

“”Now, we’re experiencing this trauma all over again. And, what makes this wave particularly heartbreaking, is that it was largely preventable,” Sakrowitz said.

Practice mitigation — vaccinate, mask, distance — was the mantra of all the physicians, but for those patients who have become ill with COVID-19, monoclonal antibodies and other treatments are available to aid recovery, Angus said.

“So, if you get COVID-19, UPMC is here for you,” Angus said. “We don’t want to put you in the ICU or even in a regular hospital bed. We will if we have to, but what we want to do is to keep you out of the hospital altogether.”

Angus stated that during the pandemic, the hospital system has adapted clinical trials from the traditional way of doing things because of the need to treat patients with the coronavirus as quickly as possible. In the spring last year, they launched a remap of their clinical trials platform.

“(It’s) a platform trial that could give all of our patients the best COVID-19 therapies in the coordinated way. That helped us to learn at unprecedented speed how to best take care of COVID-19 patients,” Angus said.

Angus cited some examples of this new approach.

“We find that inexpensive steroids help the sicked hospitalized patients and even reduce the odds of death. We find that blood thinners are also incredibly important in helping the moderately ill hospitalized patients. We have settled the debate that hydroxychloroquine simply didn’t work,” he said.

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