Less than a month into the new school year, the U.S. is seeing a record number of children hospitalized for COVID-19. According to data from the CDC, the hospitalization rate for children under 18 is five times what it was in June, and the New York Times reports that nearly 30,000 adolescents and children were hospitalized for coronavirus in August.
Infections overall are spiking, too: This week saw over 250,000 new child coronavirus cases, which, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, is higher than at any point in the pandemic. It also means that children now account for more than one-quarter of all new cases. While we don’t know yet whether the Delta variant causes more severe illness in children, its high transmissibility is contributing to the spike in cases.
Most kids experience mild cases of coronavirus thanks to their strong immune systems, and the under-18 set still accounts for fewer new hospitalizations than any other age bracket. As of September 2, data from 24 states found that under 2 percent of coronavirus cases in children resulted in hospitalization.
But the spike in hospitalizations is especially concerning given the capacity of pediatric ICU units, which average just 12 beds per hospital. In Louisiana and Texas, some children’s hospitals are completely overwhelmed, with federal “surge teams” bringing emergency workers in to help.
While vaccines, which are playing a key role in keeping people with COVID-19 infections out of hospitals, are still not available for kids under 12, adult vaccinations seem to be minimizing the number of sick children. The ten most vaccinated states haven’t seen much change in their pediatric hospitalization rates, while the biggest increases are happening in states with low vaccination rates. Doctors in overrun ICUs are also urging all adults, vaccinated or not, to wear masks and socially distance in public, especially if they’re coming into contact with children.