Front-line workers, families share heartache of caring for young children hospitalized with COVID

At Dayton Children's, an influx of COVID-19 patients are coming in for care.

With coronavirus infections soaring to record-setting levels, an unprecedented number of virus-positive children are now entering hospitals.

Eight-month-old Enaeshya Edley is one of the 300 children now hospitalized for COVID-19 in Ohio at Dayton Children's Hospital.

"I am very scared. I am terribly scared," her mother, Jackie Kerby, told ABC News on Thursday. "Is her body going to be able to fight this?"

Kerby said she initially brought her daughter, who was premature at birth and is underweight, to another hospital after she developed a high fever. However, after sitting in the waiting room for six hours, Kerby left to care for Enaeshya at home.

However, after Kerby and all four of her children subsequently tested positive for COVID-19, Enaeshya was eventually admitted to Dayton Children's after her persistent fevers were not showing any signs of abating.

"She's getting these fevers in the night, and they're not coming down," Kerby said. "Is she going to be on a ventilator? All that is running through my head."

Kerby and her two older sons had all been vaccinated, and thus experienced mild illness. However, the two youngest children, who are still too young to get the shot, were the sickest.

"I want her to get better. I want to take my baby home, and I wish she didn't have this," Kerby said.

Kerby told ABC News on Friday that Enaeshya is doing better, but she still has a mild fever, and is not eating, so she will not be going home yet.

'Huge volumes of kids who are sick'

Front-line workers at Dayton Children's said in recent weeks, the hospital has seen a significant increase in pediatric COVID-19 related hospitalizations, with the omicron variant rapidly spreading throughout their community.

"We are seeing huge volumes of kids who are sick, hopefully sick and recovering, but sick nonetheless," said Dr. Adam Mezoff, the chief medical officer.

Across the country, more than 5,200 children are currently hospitalized with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19, according to federal data.

On average, hospital admissions among children have quadrupled over the last month, with more than 870 COVID-19 positive kids admitted each day. In Ohio, more than 300 COVID-19 positive children are currently hospitalized.

"The ICU is very busy. We have so many COVID patients coming in and out of the unit and they are all critical," Dr. Vipul Patel, chief of pediatric intensive care at Dayton Children's told ABC News, adding that the hospital currently had one COVID-19 young patient on a ventilator.

COVID-19 is only further exacerbating previously existing health issues for many children, Patel explained, adding that many parents are shocked to see their children become so sick, and some families have even expressed remorse for not vaccinating their kids.

"I will tell you that roughly 10 to 20% of the children that we see and admit to the hospital end up in the intensive care unit," noted Mezoff.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association, there is an "urgent" need to collect more age-specific data to assess the severity of illness related to new variants as well as potential longer-term effects.

The two organizations report that a small proportion of children have resulted in hospitalization and death. Data from nearly two dozen states shows that 0.1% to 1.6% of all child COVID-19 cases resulted in hospitalization. ​Similarly, in states which reported virus-related deaths by age, 0.00%-0.27% of all child COVID-19 cases resulted in death.

Nationwide, about 35% of eligible children -- ages 5 to 17 -- have been fully vaccinated.

'Doing our best'

Respiratory therapist Hillary O'Neil said she and her team are exhausted, as they try to care for the influx of patients amidst the hospital's latest staffing shortage.

"I think one of the most demoralizing things is when that doesn't feel like so you know, we're all trying we're all doing our best and everything every day," O'Neil told ABC News.

Nationwide, more than 1,000 hospitals are currently reporting a critical staffing shortage, according to federal data.

"Hundreds of [staff] are getting sick," Mezoff added. "We are all tired of this."

O'Neil, who is 36 weeks pregnant, added that she is anxious as she tries to keep up with work while ensuring that she and her baby stay safe and healthy.

"We definitely don't have enough people to do anything right now," O'Neil said. "We're still trying to do more with less. ... Everybody's doing the best that they can, working as hard as they possibly can."

It has been particularly difficult to see children, who are still too young to understand what is happening, sick and scared, added O'Neil.

"You can see it in the faces of kids that can't talk -- their eyes get really big and they, we watch them struggle to breathe," O'Neil said. "Then on top of that we watch their parents struggle to watch their child and that is sometimes just as hard as watching the kids."

As she held her sleeping daughter, Kerby urged parents to understand that children, particularly those who are still vulnerable and unvaccinated, like Enaeshya, are by no means immune to the illness, and can still become very ill due to COVID-19

"Don't listen to what people say. I'm here holding my 8-month-old baby, and she's sick, very, very sick," Kerby said. "Be cautious. Wear a mask ... you gotta keep yourself safe."