SAINT PETERSBURG, Fla. — As the omicron COVID-19 variant causes new cases to surge, doctors in the Tampa Bay area are expressing concern over the growing number of local pediatric COVID-19 cases and the domino effect it has on children’s health, families and schools.
“My biggest concern right now is with omicron spreading so quickly, we're inevitably going to be seeing more and more kids getting infected, especially as they start going back to school,” said Dr. Juan Dumois of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.
“Most of those kids will just recover from their illness at home, but a few will end up hospitalized and we will be trying to care for those children.”
Dr. Dumois said pediatric cases of COVID-19 have spiked significantly over the last few weeks at All Children’s Hospital.
"For the week ending Sunday, we had 38 kids test positive for COVID. In the previous week, we only had four,” he said. "The surge has just now started. We are nowhere near the peak of the surge in my opinion. And so I think it will become more stressful over the course of the next month."
The omicron wave has parents like Anita Benson terrified. She and all three of her young children contracted COVID-19 last year.
“It was very stressful,” she said.
She worries with her kids back in class - it's only a matter of time before Omicron strikes - again.
"Even with the schools, I call them every morning, make sure my kids keep on they mask,” she said. “Only pull it down to eat and drink. That's it.”
Just as much as parents are concerned about COVID in the classrooms, doctors are concerned about keeping those kids out of the hospitals, especially as cases rise.
The increase at All Children's Hospital in St. Pete mirrors a nationwide trend. Doctors say they hope children don't get lost in the overall numbers.
"The case numbers went up so fast that I think adults are going to kind of drown out the kids and push them into a smaller percentage, which can be a little misleading because the case number total for the kids is actually going up,” said Dr. Jill Roberts of the University of South Florida.
Nationwide, doctors say they find many pediatric COVID cases when kids come in for something else. But, at All Children's, it's a different story.
"Most of the children who tested positive were brought in because they had some symptoms and the parents were concerned," said Dr. Dumois.
So, while scientists report omicron is less severe in some cases, doctors say it can still take a toll on children.
"We see the children who are so sick, that they're on a mechanical ventilator because their lungs can no longer oxygenate their blood properly,” said Dr. Dumois. “We unfortunately have seen some of the children who don't survive the COVID.”
Dr. Dumois said most of the children who are hospitalized due to COVID are unvaccinated. He said vaccines are the best protection against severe cases of the virus.