ATLANTA - With US COVID-19 cases surging, so are pediatric hospitalizations, reaching their highest level so far in the pandemic.
Children's Healthcare of Atlanta had 111 kids hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Friday.
Of those children, only 8% were fully vaccinated and 79% had at least one underlying medical condition that could raise their risk of complications of the virus.
The rise in hospitalizations is a trend CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky says is playing out across the US.
"Hospitalization rates have increased for all ages, and while children still have the lowest rates of hospitalizations, pediatric hospitalizations are at the highest rate compared to any other point in the pandemic," Dr. Walensky says. "Sadly, we're seeing hospitalizations increase for children 0 to 4, children who are not yet currently eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination."
Dr. Walensky says there may be several factors driving the increase in pediatric hospitalizations, including the highly-contagious omicron variant, which the CDC projects is now driving 95% of new infections.
"This very well may very be the fact there are just more cases out there and that our children are more vulnerable when we see that they have more cases surrounding them," Dr. Walensky says.
Winter is a busy time of year for pediatric hospitals, with respiratory viruses like flu and RSV making the rounds.
Still, Dr. Walensky says, these numbers are unusually high, and the case numbers include a mixture of kids admitted with COVID-19 complications and those who are hospitalized for other reasons who test positive.
"But, I would say we've not yet seen a signal there is any increased severity in this demographic," she says. "We are following the science carefully on that."
In Georgia, adult hospitalizations are also rising.
As of Friday, just over 4,648 patients with COVID-19 and about 503 more with suspected infections were hospitalized statewide, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
But Dr. Felipe Lobelo, a physician and epidemiologist with Kaiser Permanente Georgia, says they are not seeing as many critically ill patients with omicron variant, but healthcare workers, many of them vaccinated and experiencing breakthrough infection, are being hit hard.
"We clearly are seeing a lot more infections in our staff that has created, obviously, a lot more of a crunch in terms of managing both the outpatient, the emergency room, the hospital staff," Dr. Lobelo says. "Around 10 to 20% of our staff at some point during this surge is going to be infected or unable to work for at least 7 days."
With emergency departments crowded, and staffing is tight, hospitals are asking people to go to a testing site rather than the ER to get screened for COVID-19 and to recover at home if their symptoms are mild.
"Particularly if you are fully vaccinated, boosted and your symptoms are mild, it's a much better circumstance for you to isolate at home, manage those symptoms, and obviously keep in mind the progression of symptoms," Dr. Lobelo says. "If those happen, then, obviously, you should seek medical attention."
If you test positive or suspect you have COVID-19, the CDC says stay home and isolate for at least 5 full days, even if you've been fully vaccinated and boosted.
Then, wear a well-fitting mask five days after that.