Oklahoma hospitals are being hit hard again with a wave of COVID-19 hospitalizations. In this surge, more children are being hospitalized with the virus than at any other point during the pandemic.
Doctors with OU Health shared advice and information about what they’re seeing during this surge, what the omicron variant looks like in children, and when COVID-19 symptoms are cause for concern.
On Friday, the state Health Department reported 71 pediatric hospitalizations for COVID-19 statewide. That’s just shy of the state’s highest-ever documented number of pediatric hospitalizations — 73 — which was reported the day before.
The state has recorded tens of thousands of COVID-19 cases in children just this month. Last week, kids under 18 made up about 18% of all cases in Oklahoma.
At Oklahoma Children’s Hospital OU Health, staff are seeing an all-time high in pediatric admissions for COVID-19, said Dr. Donna Tyungu, a pediatric infectious disease specialist.
Here’s what to know about omicron and children:
1. The common symptoms
Despite the rising number of pediatric hospitalizations, most kids don’t have to be hospitalized for COVID-19. Many will be able to recover from an infection at home and see their pediatrician or family doctor, said Dr. Stephanie DeLeon, the inpatient medical director at Oklahoma Children's Hospital.
“Those kids typically have a sore throat, maybe some mild runny nose or congestion, a lot of fatigue,” DeLeon said. “They may have a mild cough or headache.”
What doctors aren’t seeing this time around is loss of taste or smell, DeLeon said. That was a telltale sign of COVID-19 in some earlier strains.
Doctors are also seeing toddlers and young children diagnosed with croup, which is marked by a barky cough and some difficulty breathing, she said.
Croup can sometimes be managed at home, but sometimes will require hospital care, DeLeon said.
During the omicron wave, hospitals have also seen more young patients coming in with dehydration, she said.
“For your average pediatric patient who is at home you can treat this like other similar viruses, giving medications for fever and encouraging fluids to make sure your child is staying hydrated even if they don't want to eat or drink,” she said.
For children who may be at higher risk for complications of COVID-19 — including kids with lung disease, heart disease, immunosuppression or who are overweight — some monoclonal antibody treatments are authorized for children. But they’re in short supply, DeLeon said.
“Although COVID may be seen as a mild disease, there are some severe complications that can happen from it and the resources that we have to treat COVID are scarce right now in our state,” she said.
2. When it’s time for an ER visit
Hospitals systems have asked people to avoid coming to the emergency room just for a COVID-19 test or to be checked out for mild symptoms.
But there are some COVID-19 symptoms that do merit a trip to the ER: watch for signs of difficulty breathing, which could look like fast breathing, sucking in around the ribs, or using a lot of muscles in the neck or chest to take a breath, DeLeon said.
Dehydration is also a sign that a child could need emergency care, she said.
“That isn't, ‘Oh, they didn't drink like normal today,’” she said. “That is, if they're in a diaper, you have had only one or two diapers throughout a 12- or 15-hour period, or when they cry, they're not making tears.”
If a child is extremely lethargic, or “anything else seems quite out of the ordinary,” that would be a reason to come in, too, DeLeon said.
“It’s always worth a call to your pediatrician first to get their guidance, especially if they know your child well,” she said.
3. How to keep kids healthy
Vaccination, masks and hand-washing are the ways to leave COVID-19 behind and “key to disease control,” said Dr. Amy Middleman, chief of adolescent medicine at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital.
COVID-19 vaccines are now available to kids as young as 5, and have been shown to be highly effective in children.
With omicron, Oklahoma has seen many breakthrough cases, even in children. But even so, there are multiple benefits to vaccination, Middleman said: there’s a decreased risk of developing MIS-C, or multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children, if a child gets COVID-19 and is vaccinated.
Vaccinated kids also have a milder disease and they’re contagious for a shorter period of time, she said.
“All of these benefits are critically important — not only to the individual children and patients that get vaccinated, but (also) from a public health perspective,” Middleman said.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: 3 things to know about how Oklahoma kids are being affected by omicron