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With Delta variant cases on the rise in Orange County, doctors say more kids are getting sick

Children and adults enjoy the new playground at Lions Park in Costa Mesa, July 17, 2021.
Children and adults enjoy a recently reopened Lions Park following a July 17 ribbon-cutting ceremony. County health experts say coronavirus cases and hospitalizations among children have been rising in recent weeks.
(File Photo)

As a more contagious Delta variant takes root in Orange County and residents 12 and older get vaccinated, pediatricians are reporting a noticeable increase in coronavirus infections and COVID-19 hospitalizations among young children, just weeks before the start of school.

“Right now, we’re seeing a huge uptick in the number of cases in children,” said Dr. Chulie Ulloa, a pediatric infectious disease physician scientist and assistant professor of Pediatrics at UC Irvine’s School of Medicine. “And unlike before, the children tend to be more symptomatic.”

A recent report issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics indicated the number of infections among children nationwide increased in the previous week to 72,000 from around 39,000 the week prior to that — a nearly 85% jump in new cases.

A child holds a bundle of flowers at the Sakioka family fields in Costa Mesa in July.
A child holds a bundle of flowers at the Sakioka family fields in Costa Mesa in July. Pediatricians nationwide and in Orange County are noting a recent rise in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations among children and are urging adults to take all precautions available.
(File Photo)

And while kids were previously thought to be less predisposed to suffering the worst symptoms of the virus, as the Delta variant begins to proliferate, more children are being admitted into local hospitals.

Dr. Kate Williamson, a CHOC pediatrician and immediate past president of the AAP’s Orange County chapter said after a springtime lull, infections began picking up in early July and have been on the rise ever since.

“We’re seeing the cases go up at CHOC, both on the inpatient floor as well as the ICU,” Williamson said. “And we have kids who are really, really sick.”

A spokeswoman for Children’s Hospital Orange County on Friday confirmed 219 positive coronavirus tests were recorded in July, compared to 48 in June. Among those, 27 children were hospitalized with COVID-19 last month, whereas only 17 were admitted in June.

Between Thursday and Friday alone, the daily number of new infections reported by the Orange County Health Care Agency in children under 18 rose from 134 to 173, the latter of which represents nearly 16% of the 1,108 new cases reported by the agency Friday.

Orange County District 2 Supervisor Katrina Foley holds a news conference on the rise of Delta variant cases countywide.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Orange County District 2 Supervisor Katrina Foley on Friday launched a news conference she said would be the first of several daily briefings on virus trends. There, OCHA Deputy Health Director Regina Chinsio-Kwong acknowledged an elevated risk among minors who are not eligible for the vaccine.

“They’re at the highest risk, especially with this Delta variant that’s highly transmissible,” she said. “The rate of hospitalization is still low, but it is happening.”

In July, all admitted COVID-19 patients at Children’s Hospital of Orange County were unvaccinated, Chinsio-Kwong added, urging all parents, even those who’ve received a vaccine, to take every precaution around unprotected minors.

Concerns about children’s exposure to the Delta variant are especially troubling as area school districts prepare for the start of the 2021-22 school year in the weeks ahead. While the California Department of Public Health has issued a mandate for all students and school staff to wear masks indoors, officials have left enforcement of non-compliance up to individual school districts.

Medical experts warn adherence to coronavirus protocol — especially mask-wearing — will be crucial to keeping kids safe as they return to campuses.

Ulloa, the principal investigator on a study published earlier this year on coronavirus trends among children at four different schools, said institutions that practiced multiple mitigation protocols, such as distancing, mask-wearing and handwashing, were relatively safe.

She emphasized the importance of taking all precautions to stop the virus from continuing to spread and mutate into versions against which current treatments will be less effective.

Williamson agreed.

“If all [the precautions] are in place, our kids can be safe in school,” she said. “But if you don’t have all of those things, if teachers aren’t vaccinated or kids aren’t wearing masks, you’re going to have outbreaks and kids are going to get really sick.”

Williamson further said it was crucial for adults to get vaccinated, as children are only as safe as the people they’re around.

“For children younger than the age of 12, since they can’t have antibodies, you need to make sure the people around them have antibodies,” she added. “If you have multiple layers of people who are vaccinated around them, the virus cannot get to them.”

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