Officials: Kids at risk for respiratory illnesses

Although a child hasn’t been admitted as an inpatient for COVID at the facility, there have been multiple kids who have tested positive.

Amid a renewed surge of COVID-19 cases, state health officials last Thursday addressed the risks children face from the disease.

State Epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin said during a press conference that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported seeing higher numbers of pediatric COVID hospitalizations nationwide.

“Number one, we know that the delta surge is happening across the country; we know that this virus variant is much more transmissible than previous variants,” McLaughlin said. “And we also know that children are the least vaccinated population in our overall population nationally and here in Alaska.”

According to data from the state Department of Health and Human Services Monday, statewide there have been approximately 11,100 kids between the ages of 10 and 19 who have tested positive for the virus, as well as 7,000 children under 10.

The state reported a total of 1,155 new COVID cases over the weekend, which included 116 on the Kenai Peninsula.

Bruce Richards, the external affairs director at Central Peninsula Hospital, said although a child hasn’t been admitted as an inpatient for COVID at the facility, there have been multiple kids who have tested positive.

Anna Frick, an epidemiology fellow for the state, said during Thursday’s press briefing it’s hard to track pediatric COVID hospitalizations because the number is smaller than other age groups.

“The trends are a little hard to follow, because they’re very small numbers,” she said. “The most recent months have seen more than a few, though.”

Frick said if the pediatric hospitalization numbers continue upward on the same trajectory, they’ll closely align with the data from the last big surge.

There have also been more reports of respiratory syncytial virus — an infection that causes cold-like symptoms and can cause bronchitis and pneumonia — among children nationwide, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said Thursday.

“That does put young kids at risk both for stopping to breath if they’re really young … and is a common reason, particularly in this state, for hospitalization including ICU hospitalization for our infants,” Zink said. “And for our youngest kiddos, we saw a real surge of RSV in the Lower 48.”

Zink also said there has been an increase in RSV cases in Alaska, but emphasized that non-pharmaceutical mitigation efforts, like masking and social distancing, have helped reduce the spread.

Health officials at the state continue to encourage everyone eligible to get their COVID-19 vaccines, as they say the shot is the most effective mitigation measure available to the public.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, now marketed as Comirnaty, received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration for people 16 and older last week, and is still available for children 12 to 15 under FDA emergency use authorization.

Additionally, the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccines are FDA approved for emergency use for anyone 18 and older.

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