Hospitalizations of young New York City children with COVID-19 symptoms, ages 5-11, have jumped nearly fivefold over the past three weeks, the state health commissioner reported Monday morning — and these sick youngsters had not received the vaccine previously.
Dr. Mary Bassett told reporters at Governor Kathy Hochul’s briefing in Albany that the city saw 109 COVID-related hospital admissions for young children between Dec. 19-23, up from the 22 such admissions reported between Dec. 5-11. The 109 pediatric hospitalizations in NYC accounts for 59% of the 184 such admissions made at hospitals in the state.
The dramatic spike in children winding up being hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms coincides with the Omicron-fueled spike in COVID-19 infections across the board in the northeastern U.S.. Bassett said all of the hospitalized children in New York City had one thing in common: None of them had been vaccinated.
In fact, both Bassett and Hochul pointed out that vaccination rates among young children remain far too low. Since the federal government authorized COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5-11 back in early November, just 27% of New York’s youngsters in the age group had received at least the first dose.
“We’re releasing this data because we want pediatricians to be alert to making diagnoses of COVID-19 in children,” Bassett said. “Many people continue to think children don’t become infected with COVID. This is not true.”
While schools in New York are on holiday recess, Hochul said the break offers parents of unvaccinated children the ideal opportunity to get them protected against COVID-19 before classes resume in the new year.
Controlling the spread of COVID-19 in schools and elsewhere is critical toward ensuring that they remain open, the governor reminded. She made clear on Monday her opposition of schools reverting to remote learning over in-person classes, noting that keeping kids at home during the pandemic created detrimental social and emotional impacts that affected generations of New York children.
To that end, along with encouraging parents to have their children vaccinated, Hochul said the state is sending 2 million tests to New York City schools for distribution and use as they see fit.
“We want to make sure that the schools stay open,” Hochul said. “We understand that it is not a good option to say children are going to be returning home again, though that’s subject to change in the possible future” depending on the current wave of cases.
Jackie Bray, secretary of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, said tests for schools and other facilities across the Empire State will be made on a rolling basis, every week or every other week, “to make sure all schools and communities are prepared” for any contingency.
Asked about the “worst case scenario” that would prompt school closures, Hochul said that would involve a number of factors such as a spike in hospitalizations among not just children, but also teachers. However, the Omicron-fueled surge does not appear, at this point, to be creating such a grave circumstance.
“It’s not going to be one number but rather a combination of events,” the governor said. “If you look at what’s happened in other countries such as South Africa, you see a vertical jump followed by an almost vertical decline [in cases]. … We’re not seeing an overwhelming problem at this. There’s just not a textbook number given to people to manage a pandemic, so you go with the best science, data and judgements that you have.”