NEW ORLEANS - Louisiana’s largest hospital system is seeing more pediatric COVID-19 patients as the highly contagious delta variant of the virus spreads.
Ochsner Health said Wednesday the system had no pediatric COVID-19 patients several weeks ago, but the number has been ranging from five to 15 the past two weeks.
However, Dr. William Lennarz who is head of pediatrics at Ochsner Hospital for Children says that doesn’t mean the delta variant is disproportionately affecting children. He says that "what is different is that children now make up the most susceptible population because children under 12 are 100% not vaccinated."
Lennarz also says most of the hospitalized children aren’t critically ill with COVID-19. He says that is still a very rare occurrence for youngsters affected by the coronavirus.
FILE - Mom hugs kids after they got their second Moderna COVID-19 vaccines at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center on Friday, June 25, 2021 as part of the KidCOVE study evaluating the safety and efficacy of the Moderna vaccine in young childr
Health officials in some areas of the country have sounded the alarm over increasing rates of hospitalizations among pediatric COVID-19 patients, but whether the risk for this population has changed due to emerging variants like delta remains unclear.
"Since the delta variant is more contagious than the original virus, more kids will become infected if other layers of protection aren't in place," Dr. Kristen Navarette, MD, MPH, a pediatrician and medical director at MVP Health Care, told Fox News. "Now is the time to continue masking, sticking to outdoor activities, staying with your pod and social distancing. A small percentage of children have been hospitalized with COVID-19. As more kids become infected with the delta variant, we anticipate the number of children being hospitalized to increase."
In Florida, new COVID-19 infections nearly doubled in mid-July, topping 45,000. The exponential increase of new cases is happening across every age group.
"In children, less than 12 years of age, it was an 87% increase, and in those children who are 12 to 19 years of age, it was an 84% increase," explained Dr. Jason Salemi, associate professor of epidemiology at USF College of Public Health.
At Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, that has translated into an uptick in emergency room visits. The chief medical officer tells FOX 13 News a record number of pediatric patients are testing positive for COVID-19.
"Our last seven days, we've seen more patients than any other seven days since the pandemic began. So we're seeing a dramatic increase in kids," said Dr. Joseph Perno.
Pediatric hospitals in North Texas are once again seeing a concerning rise in COVID-19 cases not just in adults but now in children, also.
Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth is reporting case numbers at rates not seen since February.
Cook Children's has 13 hospitalized children with COVID right now, while Children's Health has 16 between its Dallas and Plano locations.
With some children experiencing severe COVID symptoms, Cook Children’s Director of Infection Control Dr. Marc Mazade says unvaccinated adults need to do their part to protect our youngest vulnerable population.
"The key to getting schools to stay open is to vaccinate all parents, adults and eligible children as soon as possible," he said.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 337 pediatric COVID-19-related deaths since the pandemic began, but an in-depth analysis – like one that’s taken place in England – has not occurred.
The England data found the overall risk for children becoming severely ill or dying due to the virus is extremely low, with the researchers, who hail from several universities, noting that most fatalities involving young people occurred in those with underlying health conditions.
Data published through July 22 by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) which included reports from 43 states, New York City, Puerto Rico and Guam, indicated that children accounted for 0.00-0.26% of all COVID-19 deaths, with eight states reporting zero fatalities.
Still, officials at the CDC cited concerning data involving the delta variant in advising that universal mask mandates be in place for K-12 schools, where the majority of the student population has not been vaccinated. The U.S. has not authorized any of the COVID-19 vaccines for kids under 12, and only about 30% of adolescents ages 12-17 have received one.
The delta variant, which behaves drastically different than other strains of coronavirus, is peaking particularly among areas with low vaccination rates, and at a time when schools are preparing to welcome students back for in-person learning.
The variant is not just hitting the unvaccinated, both the CDC and federal officials have warned, with breakthrough cases occurring in increasing numbers as well. This could be a result of vaccinated people increasing their social activities, several experts told Fox News. Still, among vaccinated individuals, severe illness remains rare due to vaccine efficacy.
"The message is clear – the vaccine is far, far more safe in providing immunity than taking the chance that your child could get infected and could have bad side effects from the infection," Dr. Robert Amler, dean of School of Health Sciences and Practice at New York Medical College, and a former chief medical officer at the CDC Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, said. "It’s far, far safer than wild or natural infection, and parents should take every opportunity to get their child vaccinated."
Currently, children under 12 cannot receive the vaccine.
Moderna said last week it expects to have enough data to apply for FDA authorization to vaccinate younger children by late this year or early 2022. Pfizer has said it expects to apply in September for children ages 5 through 11.
The Associated Press, FOX News, FOX 13 Tampa and FOX 4 News contributed to this report.