COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — As health officials see more young people show up in hospitals sick with COVID-19, NBC4 Investigates analyzed more than 17 months of coronavirus data to determine the potential impact of the delta variant on children.
While residents under 18 years old have made up larger percentages of new cases since COVID-19 vaccines became available to older people in January, our analysis of Ohio Department of Health data found, the percentage of hospital patients that are children spiked in July. That’s when delta became the dominant strain of the virus in America.
“(The Delta variant) is incredibly contagious — much more contagious than other prior variants,” said Dr. Rustin Morse, chief medical officer of Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “So, we are seeing it spread more rapidly, including through children.”
Morse is unsure, however, whether delta brings a greater chance for a severe infection in children, compared to earlier COVID-19 strains.
“I don’t think that we know enough quite yet about the delta variant to say that it poses a greater risk to young people than it does to anyone else,” he said.
In July, children made up 6% of total hospitalized cases in Ohio, according to ODH data, the age group’s largest proportion of hospitalizations since the pandemic began. Halfway through August, patients under 18 make up 3.75% of total hospitalizations.
The percentage of pediatric cases that lead to a hospital stay, however, is going down. Roughly 1% of total pediatric cases during the week of Aug. 8 led to hospitalization, compared to roughly 7% in March 2020 and 4% in late June.
Morse said fewer than 10 patients with COVID-19 were at Nationwide Children’s as of Friday. He said that number includes kids who came to the hospital for another reason and tested positive for the virus.
With a new school year around the corner, Morse urged all eligible Ohioans to get vaccinated for the coronavirus. He also urged all Ohioans, regardless of vaccine status, to wear a mask to protect the unvaccinated.
Only people aged 12 and up are currently eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. As researchers continue to study the effects of the vaccines on younger children, a timeline for when the Food and Drug Administration could authorize a vaccine for them is unclear.
Ben Orner contributed to this story.