OLOL Children's Hospital reports month-by-month increase in kids presenting to ER with COVID-19
BATON ROUGE - As another school year kicks off, leaders at Our Lady of the Lake Children's Hospital say no children, regardless of age, can escape the risk of being infected as the Delta variant runs rampant through Louisiana.
"Really all age ranges, from three weeks of age up to 17 years of age," said Dr. Kelechi Iheagwara, medical director of the pediatric ICU. "Currently, right now, we have kids in the hospital between two years of age and 14."
At OLOL Children's, the number of kids each month presenting to the hospital's emergency room and testing positive for COVID-19 continues to climb.
In June, the hospital reported 22 kids presenting to the ER with the virus. In July, that number was 75, and two weeks into August, 126 children have presented to the hospital and tested positive.
Most of those children are sent home, able to handle the virus without hospital-level care. But not all.
"We have, currently, 10 patients in our hospital right now and two requiring ICU care," Iheagwara said.
One preteen patient hospitalized with the coronavirus died this month, Iheagwara said in an interview with WBRZ Tuesday.
State data released Tuesday showed 6,606 new cases. Twenty-eight percent of those cases were in children 17 and under.
The percentage of children testing positive also has risen over the past several weeks. For the week ending July 7, 15 percent of all cases were in those 17 and under. In the latest data from the Louisiana Department of Health, 20 percent of cases between August 5 and August 11 were in children 17 and younger.
Beyond the concerns surrounding a COVID-19 diagnosis, the hospital's staff is focused on any lingering or additional problems caused by the virus.
"We don't even know the full extent of what COVID causes," Iheagwara said. "There's a COVID fatigue syndrome we're seeing in pediatric patients now. There's something called MIS-C (multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children) that you see two to three weeks later. So, they may have COVID and be fine right now, but we're not really sure if they're going to be OK in two to three weeks."
Iheagwara says pediatric patients are being stressed emotionally too.
"You can't come outside, you can't walk around the unit," Iheagwara said. "And each time a nurse, or a doctor, or a healthcare worker comes into that room, they have full PPE: they're wearing their mask, they're wearing their gowns, they have a face shield. So just imagine what that would look like for a child. It's scary, right?"
As children and other unvaccinated adults remain at greater risk of serious outcomes from COVID-19, Iheagwara says even kids who don't test positive may be affected by the virus.
"These kids have parents ... who are child-bearing age, so when they end up in the hospital, guess what? Those kids are without parents for a while," Iheagwara said. "And then when they die, those kids are still without parents."
As the indoor mask mandate, issued earlier this month by Gov. John Bel Edwards sets off passionate debate, Iheagwara is pleading for masks to be worn at schools. She acknowledges in-person learning is necessary, but cautions, every mitigation measure possible is needed to avoid outbreaks.
"At what point is it too much?" Iheagwara wonders. "But I still believe, and I still want to believe, that if I wear a mask, if we socially distance and we get vaccinated, that we can actually combat this."
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