▶️ Pediatric COVID cases increasing; St. Charles worried about return to school

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St. Charles on Friday issued a plea to families to make sure their children are masking up indoors and out to slow a surge of pediatric COVID cases.

The hospital said it has seen 172 cases in kids age 0-18 – and 35 of those cases were reported in August alone. That’s the most in any single month.

And while hospitalizations for young people with the virus remain low, officials say families should take every precaution for kids – especially those 12 and under who can’t yet get vaccinated.

Medical experts say it’s too early to confirm a trend of more children becoming infected with COVID, but they are concerned as children head back to school.

Since the pandemic began, St. Charles hospitals have admitted 33 pediatric patients with COVID 19.

In general, young patients displayed fevers, coughs, nasal congestion, and flu-like symptoms including muscle aches, headaches and difficulty breathing.

“The majority of those, whether because of severe respiratory symptoms or because of Multi-system Inflammatory Syndrome, have had to be transferred for ICU level care,” said Dr. Scott Olson, Pediatric Hospitalist, St. Charles Medical Center. “So even though the rates of hospitalization are low, of those that we have managed in-patient, a large portion of them have ended up needing escalation of care and transfer to an intensive care unit.”

There are no pediatric intensive care units in Central Oregon, so when local children require advanced medical care, they are transferred to hospitals in Portland and other major cities. That increases the costs and stress on worried parents and families.

“There is not a good way that a parent can differentiate between a mild, or asymptomatic COVID illness or other respiratory viruses that can circulate in a community, particularly as school is restarting.”

Parents who want to have their children tested for COVID should contact their primary care provider.

Anyone displaying symptoms or with a known exposure to someone with COVID is welcome to seek drive through testing in the Bend St. Charles parking lot.

“It’s possible this is going to significantly impact our hospital capacity,” Dr. Olson said. “Whereas on an individual basis, a child may not be at severe risk of disease, when spread across the entire population, particularly with school starting up again and children doing in person learning, if those infections rise dramatically, it could lead to an overall greater number of children needing hospitalization.”

COVID vaccines are approved for children ages 12 and above but, so far, only about half of the local eligible children have taken them.

Until a vaccine is approved for younger children, those under age 12 must rely on masks, social distancing and enhanced sanitation practices to keep them safe this school year.

“There are estimates from the southeast that in areas where school has restarted, about 25% of new infections identified are in school age children,” Olson said. “So as school is restarting, we know more children are going to be at risk of acquiring disease and potentially developing symptomatic illness and we are seeing that in other parts of the country where school has restarted.”

With COVID-19 cases on the rise around the state, medical officials urge children to wear masks inside and outside when social distancing cannot be maintained.

And if all this isn’t worrisome enough, Dr. Olson expects seasonal flu viruses to return this winter.

Flu vaccines are available to children older than 6 months.

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