Kids' COVID Hospitalizations Are Rising in Mass., But Doctors Offer This Context

"I think what we're seeing in terms of increasing hospitalization numbers really reflects just the unbelievably high case rates that we're seeing," a Boston Children's Hospital doctor said

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Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine and six other states are reporting record numbers of COVID-related pediatric hospitalizations, according to a new NBC News analysis.

And sure enough, that's the case at Boston Children's Hospital to UMass Children's Medical Center. But the infectious disease physicians treating those patients say it has more to do with the overall surge than anything specific to the pediatric population.

"I think what we're seeing in terms of increasing hospitalization numbers really reflects just the unbelievably high case rates that we're seeing," Dr. Kristin Moffitt with Boston Children's Hospital said.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health's COVID-19 dashboard shows that cases in children are indeed on the rise, from 31 admitted to Massachusetts hospitals with COVID between Nov. 21 and Dec. 4 to 61 children admitted between Dec. 12 and 25. But the number of adults, especially people over 50, are being hospitalized in the hundreds over the same period.

"When you actually look at the data, the proportion of kids has been remarkably stable, so it's just under 18% of all the cases," said Dr. Christina Hermos with UMass Children's Medical Center. "So as the cases skyrocket in adults, they increase proportionally in kids."

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Hermos said the hospitalization rate for children with COVID still hovers under 1% -- with the overwhelming majority of pediatric COVID patients being in children who aren't vaccinated.

"The vaccine over and over is showing to be our best protection at keeping people out of the hospital," Hermos said.

But doctors say pediatric emergency rooms are also being overwhelmed by parents bringing their children in with mild symptoms or for COVID testing.

"I do encourage families to talk with their pediatrician first before rushing to an emergency department," Moffitt said.

The doctors said you should absolutely bring your child to the ER if they appear dehydrated or have labored breathing, but not with mild COVID cases.

The rate of children being hospitalized with COVID-19 remains low in Massachusetts, but hospitalization surges in other states have health officials keeping an eye on rising cases among kids.

NBC News' analysis also found that the number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 is also soaring in Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.

The analysis cited a CDC study that examined 915 COVID cases in children at six medical centers this summer and found that 78% were hospitalized with COVID complications and nearly a third were placed into intensive care.

"I think a lot of parents have been relying on the narrative that if you have a healthy child, it's very unlikely that your child can get sick from Covid. That’s not true," University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital pediatric infectious disease expert Dr. Amy Edwards told NBC News.

While Massachusetts hasn't reported any higher number of pediatric cases since the start of the pandemic, it also doesn't share pediatric hospitalization data from before July 2020, so it's not clear if there were more pediatric hospitalizations at the start of the pandemic. Earlier data, like this dashboard from May 2020, grouped children in with people 18-20 years old.

This summer, NBC10 Boston reached out to the Department of Public Health to find out why it stopped sharing that information and received this reply: “The Commonwealth maintains one of the most robust and comprehensive public data reports on COVID-19 in the nation and has continued to regularly review and adjust its reporting to improve metrics as impacts of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth has evolved.”

Massachusetts is no longer posting the number of children who have been hospitalized, leading to questions as kids get ready to go back to school.
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