COVID-19 Cases Among Kids Quadruple in a Week with Omicron
Cook Children's Infectious Diseases Expert Addresses Questions Regarding Latest Spike in Cases
COVID-19 cases among children are on the rise nationally, as well as at Cook Children’s Medical Center. Mary Suzanne Whitworth, M.D., medical director of Infectious Diseases, addressed more than a dozen reporters in a news conference via Zoom this afternoon. She said there are currently 29 children being treated inpatient for COVID-19 at the medical center. Four are in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU).
The rate of children testing positive for COVID-19 across Cook Children’s Health Care System has more quadrupled since Dec. 21. Last week, 5.7% of COVID tests were returning positive. Now, that number is 22.1%.
“We are seeing upwards of 400 positive COVID-19 cases among children per day,” said Dr. Whitworth. “This is similar to where we were in early September when delta was spreading rapidly in our area.”
Dr. Whitworth says she is concerned that the numbers will continue to rise, especially as children head back to school from the winter break. She hopes parents of children ages 5 and up will make vaccination against COVID-19 a priority.
“I think masks in schools are a very good idea, but realistically kids are going to end up being around people who aren’t masked throughout the day,” she said. “The COVID-19 vaccine is excellent, so the chances of a vaccinated child winding up in the hospital or getting severely ill is very, very low. You can still catch a cold or flu-like illness from omicron, so it’s still a good idea to keep the mask on.”
She believes the current spike in cases is likely due to holiday gatherings and travel, and says it is different from the COVID-19 variants we’ve seen in the past.
“It felt like with delta, things ramped up over a few weeks. The rise on the curve was a more gentle slope,” Dr. Whitworth explained. “This time the surge is a vertical slope. That's what they saw in South Africa. That's what's been seeing nationally. This is not a hill, it's a vertical climb in number of cases… more rapid than before.”
One question Dr. Whitworth has frequently received lately is how long children need to quarantine before going back to school. According to new guidelines released by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday, Dec. 27, people diagnosed with COVID-19 need to isolate for five days, if they do not have any symptoms on day five and have not had a fever for 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medications). This is a change from the previous recommendation of isolation for 10 days. The new recommendations are the same for adults and children.
“The CDC is making this change in response to new information about the omicron variant,” Dr. Whitworth said. “Researchers have found that people are most contagious in the couple days prior to symptoms and two to three days after.”
The CDC recommends those diagnosed with COVID-19 wear a mask for five days after isolation when around others.
What if your child has been exposed to COVID-19, but not diagnosed? The CDC has also changed their recommendations for what to do. If your child has not received the COVID-19 vaccine, or if they are due for a booster but have not yet received it, they should follow the same recommendations as if they have tested positive. This means quarantining for five days followed by five days of strict mask use.
Anyone exposed to COVID-19 should wear a mask for at least 10 days and seek a test five days after exposure.
As for the dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases among children, Dr. Whitworth says it’s time to get back to the basics with social distancing, hand washing and of course, vaccination (as soon as possible).
“Do I feel concerned? Of course I do, but I hope that this spring semester, for the first time, we have the kindergarten through sixth grade group vaccinated. I think that's going to make our elementary schools safer.”