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Record-Breaking Surge: Cook Children's Marks New High for Hospitalized COVID-19 Patients

COVID-19 State of the System - Jan. 12, 2022

The number of children being treated at Cook Children’s Medical Center for COVID-19 is at an all-time high. Today, 69 pediatric COVID-19 patients are in the hospital. Nine of those are currently waiting in the Emergency Department for an available bed to open up. The latest surge, believed to be fueled by the omicron variant, is pushing the health care system to the limit.

In a Zoom call with about 20 local reporters this afternoon, Chief Nursing Officer Cheryl Petersen said the situation is nearing crisis level.

“We are at capacity and have been running at capacity for weeks,” Petersen said. “Just because COVID came doesn’t mean that we don’t have other routine hospitalizations and winter illnesses. We’re balancing our admission process and working to provide the best placement for all of our patients.”

The silver lining with the omicron surge is the fact that most children hospitalized with COVID-19 right now do not require critical care. Of the 69 COVID-19 patients, six are in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). However, the strain on the health care system is increasing.

In addition to high numbers of hospitalized patients, Cook Children’s Emergency Department and six urgent care locations are experiencing high volumes. Yesterday, 443 children were seen in the emergency room and 1,027 visited the urgent cares.

This high volume also comes as Cook Children’s staff struggle to avoid exposure and isolation from the virus. Currently, 165 employees are out due to positive COVID-19 tests. Although the health care system has more than 7,500 employees, the impact is still noticeable.

“It is similar to what our colleagues are seeing in other hospital systems,” Petersen said. “And that means that somebody else has to do the work. That means that I have managers staffing and, and I bless them and thank them for that.”

She describes the state of the staff at Cook Children’s as “weary beyond words.” 

The biggest thing the community can do to help is to take precautions against COVID-19, including masking, hand washing and getting the COVID-19 vaccine and booster if eligible. Not only will this help prevent COVID-19, but it may also prevent multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), which has continued to affect kids throughout the pandemic.

“Those children are sick. They are presenting with a multitude of inflammatory symptoms, cardiac arrhythmia and blood clotting issues and require a lot of multidisciplinary care to get them back on the road to recovery,” Petersen says.

It’s also important to avoid Cook Children’s urgent cares and emergency department for simple COVID-19 testing. These locations should be used for severe COVID-19 symptoms such as:

·         Difficulty breathing

·         Difficulty staying hydrated

·         A high fever for more than four days

If you need a COVID-19 test for your child, please call your pediatrician’s office to schedule an appointment. At-home tests and community testing locations are also great options when available. Tarrant County’s website is a great resource for finding testing locations.

Bianka Soria-Olmos, D.O., a pediatrician at Cook Children’s Pediatrics in Haslet, says one difference she's seeing with the latest surge is symptoms resembling croup. 

“They're having upper respiratory symptoms and that signature barking cough,” she said.  “That's different from the lower respiratory symptoms we saw with delta.” 

Dr. Soria-Olmos encourages families to call their child’s doctor if they are concerned. She also says at-home tests, if you can find them, are reliable.

“One thing parents tend to worry about it at-home tests and whether or not they are valid,” said Dr. Soria-Olmos. “If you get a positive result on an at-home test, trust it. You do not need to re-test. However, if you receive a negative result on an at-home test, you need to test again in 48 hours.”

Dr. Soria-Olmos says parents shouldn’t worry too much about a child testing positive, as most children recovery quickly from COVID-19. She encourages everyone to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which includes isolating for five days and wearing a mask for an additional five days.

As for how long this current surge will last, only time will tell.

“What I am hearing from the epidemiologists is that we will not peak for another three to four weeks,” Petersen said. “Unfortunately, if that holds true, I’ll be coming back to you to say we have a higher number of patients.”