Child COVID-19 hospitalizations are up in Wisconsin with the recent spread of the omicron variant, experts say

·4 min read
Registered nurse Angela Ciric, left, goes over what Penelope Jamieson,10, can expect after receiving the COVID-19 vaccination at Hartford University School, 2227 E. Hartford Ave., in Milwaukee.
Registered nurse Angela Ciric, left, goes over what Penelope Jamieson,10, can expect after receiving the COVID-19 vaccination at Hartford University School, 2227 E. Hartford Ave., in Milwaukee.

The recent rise of the omicron variant is affecting children across the nation, and the impact is being felt in the Milwaukee area as well.

The rapid increase in positive COVID-19 cases in children is leading to an increase in hospitalizations. And some experts are worried about the new variant's effect on younger children.

"We are seeing an increase in COVID cases within our Milwaukee hospital, as well as within our primary care settings," said Dr. Michael Gutzeit, chief medical officer of Children’s Wisconsin, during a Thursday news conference.

Omicron is spreading faster than past variants, as it's highly contagious.

Data from the state Department of Health Services found that 1,537 Wisconsin children under the age of 3 tested positive for COVID-19 during the week of Dec. 26. That number jumps to 1,658 for 4- to 8-year-olds, 1,842 for 9- to 13-year-olds and 1,796 for 14- to 17-year-olds.

And data from Children's Wisconsin revealed that an average of 20 children per day were admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 symptoms from Dec. 29 to Jan. 4, outpacing a prior peak of 15 children per day.

The increase in child hospitalizations is being seen nationally as well, as numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed an average of 672 children being admitted to hospitals every day with COVID-19 during the week ending Jan. 2.

That's the highest number since the pandemic began.

"Fortunately, the severe cases remain very rare; we're not seeing kids that are affected as severely as commonly, but we also want to make sure that we're aware that there are some kids who do get quite sick," Gutzeit said, mentioning multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C).

MIS-C is a serious condition associated with COVID-19 where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs, according to the CDC.

A spokesperson from Children's Wisconsin didn't yet have data about the age or vaccination status of children admitted to the hospital.

Got questions about COVID in kids?: Submit your questions here, and we'll get answers

Pediatric experts from Advocate Aurora Health, which has locations in Wisconsin and Illinois, participated in a panel Thursday to discuss some of the ways the omicron variant is affecting children.

Dr. Frank Belmonte, the chief medical officer at Advocate Children’s Hospital, said he believes the omicron variant is also affecting younger children differently, as he's seeing more upper respiratory issues with children younger than 5.

"We are seeing a higher proportion of kids needing a higher level of care during this surge," Belmonte said.

More: Three new COVID-19 testing sites open with aim of easing long lines in Milwaukee area

More: A Wisconsin mom gave birth in a COVID-19 coma before slipping to the brink of death

Dr. Nekaiya Jacobs, a pediatric critical care physician at Advocate Children’s Hospital, said she's seen more children who require closer care after being admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 recently.

"There continues to be this misconception that COVID is always mild in children or teens, or that kids just don't get sick, and we're starting to see more of our patients of the pediatric age suffering from severe complications that are related to either their initial infection with COVID or post-COVID syndromes," Jacobs said.

Dr. Kevin Dahlman, the medical director at Aurora Children’s Health, said parents should consider taking their child to urgent care or the emergency room if their child is in repository distress, having difficulty breathing or making loud noises when they're breathing.

But they should also feel comfortable calling their pediatrician to discuss any symptoms their child might have, Dahlman added.

Dahlman said unvaccinated patients who are testing positive for COVID-19 also have "much more severe symptoms."

But vaccines for children under the age of 5 have still not been approved.

Even so, on Monday, the Food and Drug Administration expanded the emergency use authorization of a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to include children 12 to 15.

The CDC said more data is needed to examine if omicron infections cause more severe illness or death related to other variants.

But also concerning to some health experts is how the pandemic has affected children's behavioral and mental health.

Dr. Laura Yahr Nelson, who works as a pediatric psychiatrist at Aurora Children’s Health, said the impacts of isolation and the disruption of normal routines for children are affecting them greatly.

"Children really do their best when there's predictability and connectedness in the world," Yahr Nelson said.

Evan Casey can be reached at evan.casey@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter @ecaseymedia.

Our subscribers make this reporting possible. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Journal Sentinel at jsonline.com/deal.

DOWNLOAD THE APP: Get the latest news, sports and more

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Child hospitalizations increase in Milwaukee area as omicron spreads

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting