ICUs at Ohio children’s hospitals filling up amid COVID surge and another virus’s early peak

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CLEVELAND (WJW) – Ohio’s children’s hospitals are reporting an increase in admissions of children with COVID-19, fueled by the spread of the Delta variant.

It has pushed some hospital intensive care units near capacity and comes amid an early peak in hospitalizations due to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

“The Delta variant seems to be causing more symptoms in children than the initial COVID variant,” said Dr. Michael Bigham, a pediatric ICU physician and chief quality officer with Akron Children’s Hospital.

He said the hospital is now admitting more children — with more severe symptoms — than during last winter’s COVID-19 surge.

A spokesperson for Akron Children’s Hospital said nine children were hospitalized at its Akron facility Thursday.

“We’re seeing more children with the Delta variant who are getting more ill and even more kids in our intensive care units,” Bigham said, noting that the hospital’s emergency departments and urgent care centers are also busier than they’ve been in recent memory.

Ohio Department of Health data shows nearly 27% of new COVID-19 cases so far in September are among children.

The Ohio Hospital Association reports 67 children were admitted to hospitals last week, marking an 81% jump from the previous week — the largest percentage increase among any age group.

“At Rainbow, our ER and acute care visits are up significantly over the last week’s, resulting in longer wait times and a higher number of patients leaving before they were evaluated,” University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital President Patricia DePompei said at a press conference Tuesday.

She said Rainbow’s pediatric intensive care unit has reached capacity several times in the last week, prompting the hospital to direct incoming patients to other children’s hospitals with available beds.

A spokesperson for University Hospitals declined to provide data about the number of pediatric COVID patients currently hospitalized.

“We have had multiple occasions over the last week where our pediatric intensive care unit at Rainbow was full, and we were unable to accommodate requests for babies or children requiring intensive care interventions,” DePompei said.

COVID-19 is not the only virus resulting in filled beds in children’s hospitals. Doctors said RSV is nearing a peak about two to three months earlier than usual.

“As soon as the masks went away, boom, there was RSV, even being in the middle of summer where RSV has no business being,” UH Rainbow Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Amy Edwards said.

She said the reduction in masking and the return to school are clear factors in the increasing spread of respiratory viruses.

A spokesperson for Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital said it has admitted 30 RSV patients since August 1, and there are currently five pediatric COVID-19 patients hospitalized within the health system.

Edwards said it remained unclear how the RSV and pediatric COVID-19 surges would progress into the fall and winter months, when RSV and the flu typically peak. She said she supports the reimplementation of mask mandates.

 “If that RSV doesn’t go away and COVID-19 continues to peak and rise, that can be a problem,” Edwards said.

Doctors reiterated the importance of vaccination, masking, social distancing, hand hygiene and staying home when sick in easing the strain on hospitals.

“Anything the community can do to help reduce the spread of COVID disease in pediatric patients does allow us to give all of our attention to those sickest of sick kids,” Bigham said.

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