PEORIA – OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois is watching national and local data closely for trends in the number of children hospitalized for COVID-19.
Through most of the pandemic the hospital has had between zero and three COVID-19 patients at any given time. As of Saturday, there were seven children in the hospital with the virus.
Most of the children locally are suffering from relatively mild symptoms, and some have co-morbidities, which make them more susceptible to COVID-19, said Michael Wells, president of Children’s Hospital of Illinois.
Like adults, children are typically not hospitalized for COVID until they exhibit some of the more severe symptoms, which include difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, chest pain, or loss of speech or movement.
Children hospitalized with COVID-19 more frequently in other states
Hospitalizations locally pale in comparison to what’s happening in other parts of the country. Recently, a record-high 2,396 children were hospitalized for the virus across the nation, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
States with low vaccination rates have been hardest hit by pediatric hospitalizations. Children’s Hospital of New Orleans reported treating 70 pediatric patients between late July and late August. Prior to this summer, the hospital never had more than seven pediatric COVID-19 patients at one time, according to an article in Time.
Statistics show deaths from COVID-19 in children are rare, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics.
But because children’s hospitals typically do not have as many ICU beds as hospitals for adults, a surge in patients can become a problem quickly. Hospitals in Louisiana, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama and Texas have struggled to find beds for all their young COVID patients.
Wells said he is grateful that has not happened in central Illinois.
“We’re aware of that happening in some other children’s hospitals in other states,” he said. “We keep an eye on that data and we’re vigilant and prepared, but grateful that we have not experienced that here,” he said.
If needed, hospital prepared for surge
The CDC reports that at least 521 children have died from the virus during the pandemic. Overall, it is estimated that more 650,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States.
Children’s Hospital of Illinois has 32 beds for intensive and intermediate care, and 32 beds for general pediatric care. They also have 64 beds for neonatal intensive care, and a unit they are able to expand into if the need arises.
Since Children’s Hospital is connected to OSF St. Francis Medical Center, staff can be easily rotated to the area with the greatest need.
“We can expand into a swing bed unit that can function as an adult unit or pediatric unit depending on where the greatest need is,” said Wells. “We typically only open that unit during the winter months, which is when we tend to see our surge in pediatric population just due to the typical spread of infectious illness.”
RSV cases increasing in Peoria
The hospital is already dealing with an increase in children suffering from RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), a common virus which usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. While most people recover in a week or two, RSV can be serious for some infants and older adults, according to the CDC.
“We saw the increase start a few weeks ago, and we have seen it continue even now,” Wells said.
That surge is likely the result of the same activities which spread COVID-19, activities which were curtailed until recently.
“Children weren’t in daycare, weren’t in school, weren’t spending as much time with friends and family. And so now that kids are spending time together, there’s just a greater opportunity for infection to spread,” Wells said.
It’s more important than ever for everyone to practice mitigation measures, he said.
“While the number of COVID-19 cases at Children’s Hospital of Illinois is relatively low, this recent surge underscores the importance of continuing to take precautions against the spread of the virus, including vaccination for all those who are eligible.”
Leslie Renken can be reached at (309) 370-5087 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.