Cook Children's reports spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations among kids due to omicron

New data from Cook Children's Medical Center shows the number of children hospitalized for COVID-19 more than tripled in just one week.

An expert at Cook Children's said the spike in children's cases is worse than it was with the delta variant.

Instead of climbing a sloping hill, this time around, it is more like a ride on an elevator. 

"This one has been different, it felt like with delta, it ramped up over a few weeks," Dr. Mary Suzanne Whitworth said.

Dr. Whitworth, medical director of infectious diseases at Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth, said omicron is spreading far faster than the delta variant. 

One week ago, they had eight children hospitalized with COVID-19, but as of Wednesday, they now have 29.

"The rise on the curve was a gentler slope. With this, our positivity rate went 3%,9%,12%, 20% in days, and inpatient population tripled in one week," she explained.

Dr. Whitworth said scientists still don't know for sure if omicron is actually milder, or if it only appears that way because more people are vaccinated. 

"I don't think anyone knows today if Omicron is a milder infection than Delta or not, that science has not been settled," she added.

All this with kids set to head back to the classroom next week after gatherings with friends and family over the Christmas break.

"I have concerns, there is good data kids can be back in school safely if multi layers of protection are followed, mask, vaccine, spacing," Dr. Whitworth said.

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Perhaps the only good news is that the vaccine is protecting against severe illness among children five and up. 

[REPORTER: "Are you seeing hospitalizations among vaccinated children?"] 

"The overwhelming majority are unvaccinated," Dr. Whitworth responded.

As the omicron variant continues its rapid spread, the CDC shortened the isolation and quarantine time for people with COVID-19 or exposed to someone who tested positive this week.

Not everyone in the medical community feels comfortable with that decision. 

"It would be nice to know, those of us in medicine would have liked to see some references so we could see which data they used to make these guidelines," Dr. Christina Johns said.

Dr. Johns, a pediatrician and senior medical advisor for PM Pediatrics, would like to see the CDC also require rapid antigen testing, despite concerns about its reliability in detecting omicron.

Without that, she said masking will be critical for those who isolate or quarantine for the shorter time. 

"The devil is in the details. depends on people doing the right thing for them to work," she added.

With some school districts set to end mask mandates when kids return in January, Dr. Johns said they may need to rethink those plans due to omicron.