Scott Simon speaks to Dr. Sadiqa Kendi, director of emergency pediatric medicine at Boston Medical Center, on the rising number of COVID-19 cases in children.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that child hospitalization rates are now at their highest level since the pandemic began. This is happening at the same time that hospitals are facing staff and equipment shortages due to the surge in omicrones. We are now joined by Sadiqa Kendi. She is the director of emergency pediatric medicine at Boston Medical Center.
Dr. Kendi, thank you for being with us.
SADIQA KENDI: You’re welcome.
SIMON: What are you seeing in your hospital right now?
KENDI: This increase was unlike any we’ve seen before because the numbers are so much higher. I mean, we’ve seen the numbers skyrocket much faster than previous increases, especially in kids. I mean, we’re seeing a lot of kids with COVID, on top of the usual respiratory viruses we’re seeing this season.
SIMON: And how do you deal with it?
KENDI: The best we can honestly. You know, I think all hospitals are doing our best right now to make sure we have the staff to look after the patients. But we are also seeing that employees are actually infected with COVID, and this is an added challenge as it creates staff shortages on top of the staff shortages we already had on the previous surge. You know, we’ve gotten creative about making sure we’re fully staffed and how to make sure we can keep delivering the care we want to offer. But it was definitely a challenge for hospitals across the country.
SIMON: How old and how young are the patients you treat?
KENDI: We’ve seen patients with COVID from the newborn all the way up. I think the challenge is getting the kids to go to school during this climb. Children are around other people. And with the highly contagious nature of the Omicron variant, we’re just seeing the virus permeating children of all ages. We often see several siblings who have it when it is in the household. And of course, all of our children under 5 are unvaccinated. This means that they have the highest risk for this variant as well as for hospitalization and serious illness.
SIMON: As I don’t have to tell you, Dr. Kendi, at the beginning of the pandemic there were many concerns about multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children – rare, but of course extremely serious. Is that also a problem with the omicron variant?
KENDI: I think we are still at the stage where we see a lot of children with acute symptoms. And so, I think, in the coming weeks we’ll see if we also see higher cases of MIS-C or not.
SIMON: I feel the need to ask you for practical advice. With the congestion of hospitals and doctor’s offices and all medical facilities, when should parents take their child to the hospital?
KENDI: My recommendation is always that if parents are really concerned that their child is sick, they should seek help. Now this level of care can be different, depending on what is going on. And I definitely think that, especially given the hustle and bustle we’ve been seeing in pediatric emergency rooms lately, when your child is fine and just needs a COVID test or is very easily sick, like just congestion or exposure and needs a test, the emergency room is definitely not the place to go. You know, in that case I would recommend going to a testing site, or if the family is concerned, see their pediatrician.
And I would really reserve the emergency room for those times when parents are concerned that the child is dehydrated or not looking good, not breathing properly, looking like they are having difficulty breathing, not urinating – so really specific concerns, whether or not , your child is fine. And the emergency room is always available for families. I think we all in pediatric emergency medicine take pride in being there for families 24/7 when they need us. But we also want to make sure that healthy people don’t sit in a crowded waiting room full of potential COVID patients. And we want to make sure that we can treat really sick patients on time.
SIMON: Dr. Kendi, what kind of help can you get right now from local governments, the federal government, health authorities, or even families?
KENDI: When it comes to helping families, I think everyone does their part to mask themselves, get vaccinated if they haven’t been vaccinated, get a booster if they haven’t been vaccinated, and realize that all of our children under 5 are currently unvaccinated and the only way to protect them is to make sure that everyone around them is doing what is best to protect them. And that’s masking and vaccinating and distancing.
I think on government terms, I’d really like to see more mandates on vaccines and more mandates on masks – and then just test availability. I know I’ve seen many families in the emergency room end up there because they couldn’t find a place to test their children or a quick test. And I think that’s a big challenge. You know, we can tell families not to come to the emergency room for testing, but if we don’t offer them other readily available options, the families often end up there.
SIMON: Dr. Thank you Sadiqa Kendi, Head of Pediatric Emergency Services at Boston Medical Center. Much luck.
KENDI: Thank you, Scott.
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