Opinion: As children’s COVID rates rise, should schools shift course?

Omicron is causing an uptick in admissions at children's hospitals

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Omicron is causing an uptick in admissions at children's hospitals

Georgia health care leaders warn new variant is overwhelming hospitals

Omicron is taking aim at children, as seen in increasing admissions to local hospitals.

“Omicron has really disproportionally affected children and, more than the alpha or the delta surge, we are really facing a tremendous challenge in taking care of children,” said Dr. Andi Shane, division chief for pediatric infectious disease at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University.

Children’s Healthcare operates three hospitals and multiple neighborhood locations. In August and September, the health network saw children testing positive for the virus at a rate of 10% to 12%. With omicron, the positivity rate has jumped to more than 50%, said Shane.

Joining five other leaders of Georgia health systems at a news conference this week, Shane warned that omicron is overwhelming hospitals. Over the last 23 weeks, the country has been adding more than 100,000 child cases per week, she said.

Georgia ranks 15th in cumulative cases of COVID-19 among children.

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More than 95% of children old enough to be vaccinated who end up in Children’s Healthcare hospitals due to COVID-19 are unvaccinated, said Shane. She urged parents to vaccinate children who are eligible and mask them outside the home at all times.

Dr. Robert Jansen, chief medical officer at Grady Health System, also testified to omicron’s devastation, saying Grady Hospital is at capacity with “wall-to-wall stretchers.” He also addressed what he called the myth that omicron is not that serious.

“Perhaps it isn’t for some folks who are lucky,” Jansen said23 “But COVID-19 is having a tremendous impact on underlying disease. For those patients who have other diseases such as heart failure, diabetes, sickle cell anemia or are immunocompromised, if they get infected, they get incredibly sick.”

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Local school districts are attempting to continue in-person classes even as omicron infections in both students and staff remain high. It’s not easy. Pickens County Schools reverted to virtual classes this past week because of too few bus drivers, but plans to resume in-person Monday.

In a letter to parents explaining the shift to virtual, the north Georgia district said, “We have exhausted all resources and are not able to cover bus routes for numerous students due to the large number of drivers and staff who are not able to work.”

Increasingly, communities are seeking to get beyond COVID-19, especially since omicron is not a serious health danger to vaccinated people. But the highly contagious variant is testing the limits of our health care system and thinning employee ranks at schools to crisis levels.

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