Fort Worth, Texas,
14:53 PM

Twenty Patients Currently Hospitalized with COVID-19 at Cook Children's

As of today, 20 COVID-19 patients are being treated at Cook Children's. This marks the highest number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients at the medical center since the beginning of the pandemic. These patients range in age from under 1 year old to 17. 

Medical Director of Infectious Diseases, Suzanne Whitworth, M.D., hosted a Q&A with reporters today about this latest update.  

What’s the capacity like at your hospital?

We have devoted 10 beds to COVID-19-infected intensive care patients. So those 10 beds are available. We have two or three of them occupied right now. I believe the most we've had occupied in the ICU with COVID-19 at one time is five. We have plenty of room to expand and we are okay. The volume of children in the hospital with COVID-19 is much less than the volume of adults. We are almost at capacity for our floor COVID-19 unit. We have 20 beds there and 17 patients in those beds, but we are already looking at which other unit we can add so that we should have plenty of room for our patients. We're not worried about running out of beds.

Just hearing the amount of children that are in the hospital is gut-wrenching enough, but I'm wondering what those children are like right now. What are their symptoms? How are they feeling?

I think our children are like most of the children hospitalized nationally. We have some children in the hospital who are not very ill. They need oxygen for a day or two, and then they go home and they're fine. We have some children who are really more ill with COVID-19 pneumonia. Those children we've been treating with remdesivir, and dexamethazone, we have some that wind up in the ICU with COVID-19 infection. We have some children who have the multi-system inflammatory syndrome, that MIS-C that you've read about. We've reported about 21 to 24 of those to the health department so far since the beginning of the pandemic. And I believe we have a couple of those kids in the hospital currently, too. Some of those children are even sicker and require ventilation in the ICU also. So it's really a full spectrum.

Did you expect this exponential growth in cases and is this something you’re anticipating going forward?

We have been very hopeful that this would not happen like all the rest of the world, but it has. And we do think that the number of children that will require hospitalization over the next few weeks or months will very likely go up. We think this will increase.

Are you planning on adding additional beds?

I think we will have to change a little bit of what we're doing. I am not fearful that we will not have enough beds, period. I think we will have plenty of beds in the hospital, but we want to maintain areas that are devoted completely to COVID-19. We have one area completely devoted to COVID-19 on the floor and one in the ICU. We're probably going to need to add another floor unit to take care of COVID-19 patients over the next few days or the next week. So we look at which units we can do that with based on air flow and staffing and those kinds of issues.

What are your feelings moving forward into the holiday as we're dealing with this and what are your fears?

It's hard for me to imagine a way that this is going to get better before January or February at the earliest. My fear is that at this moment, we have so much more community disease. When people gather at Thanksgiving and Christmas, I'm worried that our more vulnerable populations will get sick. Right now, the people that are ramping up the numbers of COVID-19 infections are younger, and many of those do not require hospitalization. So at the moment, our hospitals are getting full, especially the adult facilities. I'm worried about those adult facilities and their capacity, but we're okay in pediatrics.

The problem I see could get worse if over Thanksgiving, there are family gatherings where elderly people become exposed and more of those require hospitalization. My fear about the holidays is that we will increase disease and then increase hospitalization at a time when many of the adult facilities are already maxed out. My sincere hope is that there will be minimal family gatherings and minimal disease transmission over the holidays. We haven't had holidays during a pandemic, so we really don't know how it's going to go. But I'm hopeful that everyone will continue to do their social distancing and masking and staying six feet apart and hand-washing and all of those kinds of things that we've been talking about since the beginning, so that things won't get worse during the holidays.

A lot of parents are wondering if children are getting infected at school or if they're actually getting infected at extra-curricular activities. What are your thoughts?

The numbers of kids that are believed to have gotten infected at school really has not been bad. We had been concerned about how kids in schools would do. I know there have been outbreaks with football and volleyball and some other team sports. And I think the classroom has gone probably better than what we expected. The problem that you run into is that kids are together all day at school, wearing a mask, six-feet apart and often behind Plexiglas shields. And after that, the parents feel like it's normal to say, they're at school together all day anyway, let's have the birthday party. What they don't realize is the birthday party is unmasked because people are eating, several parents show up at birthday parties who would not normally be in the same space, and I worry that it is more, the extracurricular events than it is actually in the classroom.

I think a lot of people were under the impression that kids don't get COVID-19. Not true?

We are living proof that that is not the case. We know that we're really lucky that children do not get as sick in high volumes as adults do. But certainly kids get sick and certainly kids get intensive care unit sick with this disease. Absolutely they can. We are very fortunate we have not had any deaths here. It is my understanding that there have been a couple of deaths in the Texas Panhandle. Certainly there are isolated cases with pediatric deaths in the country.

Biggest takeaway that you would hope people would take from hearing these statistics today that you guys have the most patients at one time?

Overall, things are worse. And when you look at the population of America, we have so many people that remain at risk. It isn't just the elderly. It's thought that 150 million American citizens have a pre-existing condition that puts them at risk for severe COVID-19 disease. That's almost half of our population. So even though it's the holidays and even though we're tired of staying home and wearing masks every time we leave the house, we just can't stop it. You just have to keep wearing your mask because you never know if you're carrying this virus asymptomatically, you could be putting other people at risk. When you're out in public, begin to think about standing six feet away from whoever you're talking to. Many people already have, but make it your habit to stay feet away from other people, and wear your mask. I think we just have to be more aggressive and do that more thoughtfully and not stop over the next few months.

Have you seen children without underlying conditions become hospitalized with COVID-19?

Yes, we have seen perfectly healthy children come into the hospital who have COVID-19, who wind up on a ventilator and life support. That does happen. It's not a high number, but you can't say that children are not at risk. That has happened here and it does happen.

Video: Q&A with Suzanne Whitworth, M.D.
Suzanne Whitworth, M.D., medical director of Infectious Diseases at Cook Children's
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