Overwhelmed Cook Children's doctors make desperate plea as COVID-19 delta variant surge continues

The number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 in the North Texas region surpassed 100 for the first time during the pandemic.

Area hospitals report they are out of pediatric ICU beds.

The overall number of COVID patients in North Texas hospitals increased to nearly 3,500 Wednesday, with 52 adult ICU beds available.

Cook Children's Medical Center doctors held a press conference Wednesday, and were direct with criticism of the unvaccinated and parents who don't make their children wear masks to school.

The overwhelmed hospital is sounding the alarm.

While new modeling forecasts a virus peak by mid-September, some doctors predict many more school closures in the near future because of outbreaks.

There was a frank and desperate plea from medical professionals for everyone to get vaccinated and wear masks.

Those at Cook Children’s are seeing an alarming number of children, whether they have pre-existing conditions or not, hospitalized with COVID-19.

And that’s impacting the ability to care for not just COVID patients, but any child who is sick or injured.

Cook Children’s in Fort Worth released new video inside its facilities Wednesday.

Nestled amongst sterile, high-tech equipment were reminders that a child’s life was at stake there.

Cook Children’s also shared the news it opened a third COVID unit for the first time, and it filled up within 24 hours.

"We need some compassion from the community, we need people to understand that this is an illness that is absolutely affecting our children and we’re hitting a crisis mode when our children’s hospital is having trouble seeing all of the patients presenting to us and we can’t do it without your help," Medical Director of Urgent Care Services for Cook Children’s Dr. Kara Starnes said.

Cook Children’s reported seeing a record 600 patients in its ER Monday.

In a regular year, they would see about 300 this time of the year.

"We run one of the biggest, busiest, baddest ERs in the country at 300. And we go up to 400, even 500 in the past, but at 600, we are physically unable to care for kids in a timely fashion," Medical Director Of Emergency Services for Cook Children’s Dr. Corwin Warmink said.

Cook Children’s was also forced to shut down its urgent care center in Hurst over the weekend to consolidate staff due to shortages.

The hospital system said it’s running thin on staff due to illness and burnout.

It’s vaccine requirement for employees doesn't kick in until September 27, and officials say that requirement is not a factor when it comes to these staffing shortages.

"We haven’t lost staff due to vaccine requirements," Dr. Starnes said. "The staffing shortages we’re experiencing currently are due to illness or burnout."

RELATED: UT Southwestern: COVID hospitalizations will peak next month, but forecast shows improvements

The steep incline in COVID cases among children was already underway when schools started across the area.

While a few districts require masks, many are not.

Some districts have been forced to pause due to so many staff and students ill or quarantined.

"If you want your child to get sick, send them to school without a mask. Bottom line. It’s not a question of if they’ll get sick, but when," Dr. Warmink said.

Doctors at Cook Children’s are also frustrated more people aren’t vaccinated, despite overwhelming evidence the vaccines work.

Children under the age of 12 are still too young to be vaccinated, meaning they rely on masking and everyone who is eligible getting vaccinated.

Dr. Susi Whitworth said every hospitalization she’s seen at Cook Children’s is someone not vaccinated.

"If we had higher uptake of the COVID vaccines, we would be infinitely better off than we are now. There has never been this much information about a vaccine in the past," Dr. Whitworth added.

And doctors said it’s not just children with pre-existing conditions who end up hospitalized.

They are seeing plenty of healthy children showing up too.

"The odds are on your side, but why risk it. You wouldn’t drive with your kid without a seatbelt, you’re a bad parent if you do that. Why would you risk your child’s health? Get them vaccinated. You, yourself should get vaccinated and mask up," Dr. Warmink said.

Doctors can’t say enough that the delta variant hits differently with children.

Cook Children’s has lost seven children to COVID-19, and two of those deaths were Just last week.

"I get paid and everything in my training and career was to not freak out. But I’m freaking out," Dr. Warmink said.

Doctors said one way people can help is by not taking their kids to the ER when it’s a non-emergency situation, like wanting a COVID-19 test for exposure.

They said if someone shows up with something minor, there’s a chance they will wait all day because they are triaging patients in the ER right now.