Doctors, health officials say children still at risk as COVID cases rise among youth

Doctors and medical leaders say children under 12, who can't get the vaccine, are susceptible to the delta variant -- with some entering the ICU.
Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 7:12 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 10, 2021 at 10:18 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As Hawaii sees a rise in youth COVID cases, doctors and medical leaders say children under 12, who can’t get vaccinated, are susceptible to the delta variant.

The state Health Department reported that COVID cases among children 17 and under made up 17% of all infections in Hawaii.

The rates of infection for all age groups started rising rapidly in mid-July, but toward the end of August, the rates for minors exceeded those in their late-40s and older. By Aug. 29, there were 412 cases for every 100,000 children in Hawaii — compared to 376 infections over the state level.

Hawaii has more than 300,000 children and doctors say COVID cases among kids are rising, but they tend to be less sick than adults.

“We see quite a few cases in the high schoolers and middle schoolers, and personally I attribute that to having a lot more independence,” said Dr. Nadine Tenn Salle, chief of pediatrics at the Queen’s Medical Center.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who is also an ER physician, says at one point last week, six out of the 438 patients hospitalized in the state were children and a very small number needed intensive care.

“So about two of our children with COVID were in the ICU and there were 89 adults,” Green said.

“We’ve not had more than one or two children in our pediatric intensive care units with COVID at any point in time and that’s a real testament to how the state is doing,” said Hilton Raethel, CEO and president of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii.

“It’s less than 1% of children ever end up in the hospital and it’s like 0.4% end up in the ICU,” Tenn Salle said.

Dr. Phil Verhoef, adult and pediatric critical care physician, says children’s hospitalizations tend be less severe.

“It’s typically because they need extra oxygen or extra intravenous fluids, but in general, they are not requiring the intensive care unit the way adults are. And, I think that has been a real blessing,” said Verhoef.

“They can be taken care of at home and we can manage their symptoms with ibuprofen or Tylenol and a little bit of tender loving care,” he added.

But doctors say some children are feeling long haul symptoms.

“People have talked about any where between 2% and 15% of children may also have long COVID symptoms. There have been some recent publications that 3 to 6 months out, kids are still feeling fatigued, headaches, shortness of breath and body aches,” Verhoef said.

Doctors stress vaccination for those 12 and older to stop the spread of the disease.

“This is going to be part of the way we live. What we can do is control our risk and anyone who is eligible for the vaccine helps decrease the spread,” said Tenn Salle.

“It does not make you bullet proof and even if it does come to your house, it doesn’t wreck the same kind of havoc as it would if you were unvaccinated.”

Leading physicians say they are not aware of any Hawaii child COVID deaths except for an immunocompromised visitor, and despite rumors, they’ve seen no adverse reactions from the vaccine itself.

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