Ohio health care workers warn of 'astronomical' COVID-19 pediatric surge
Ohio has the country's second highest total of pediatric COVID hospitalizations.
Although coronavirus-related hospitalizations are beginning to trend down nationally among all age groups, the rate of pediatric infections remains at an "exceptionally high" level, according to experts.
Across the country, federal data shows that nearly 2,000 children are currently hospitalized with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19. In recent weeks, as the viral surge in the South is finally showing signs of abatement, pediatric hospital admissions have fallen by more than 30%. However, on average, more than 250 children continue to be admitted to the hospital each day with the virus.
In Ohio, which currently has the country's second highest total of pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations, the crisis among children remains at a critical level.
Front-line workers at Dayton Children's Hospital told ABC News they have seen a "record number" of virus-positive patients, since the highly infectious delta variant hit the state over the summer.
"We're seeing an increase in our census that's been astronomical," said charge nurse Will Andres. "[It's] pretty hard to keep our heads above water, day in and day out."
As of Wednesday, more than 210 children are hospitalized with COVID-19, across the state.
"We are seeing more and more positive results. We're seeing more and more people coming in and requesting testing. It's just overwhelming," Amy Temple, a pediatric emergency room nurse, said.
Earlier this month, the CEOs of Ohio's six children's hospitals joined together with the Ohio Children's Hospitals Association to raise the alarm about the significant increase in hospitalized kids with the coronavirus.
"This is a reality for us today. And it's threatening the capacity of our pediatric safety net in ways we have never experienced before," the group wrote in a letter.
Many front-line workers reported that children appear to be getting sicker than at previous points in the pandemic -- particularly adolescents who have not been vaccinated.
"Some of these kids are getting very sick. They're requiring extra assistance to make them able to breathe. We're having to do a lot of extra intervention, whether it's either putting in a breathing tube and putting on a ventilator or with just a mask to provide oxygenation and ventilation," Hilary O'Neill, a respiratory therapist at Dayton Children's Hospital, explained. "There are definitely a lot sicker than we had ever seen before."
The influx of patients in need of care has left some front-line workers feeling overwhelmed, overworked and mentally drained.
"At this point, I'm emotionally exhausted. Kids keep getting sicker, and we are busy, and every day we come in and there just doesn't seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel anymore," Temple said.
Michele Nadolsky, a clinical team leader in the emergency room, and a 28-year veteran of the hospital, added that she feels an "overwhelming sense of defeat," particularly as a "large" number of nurses leave the business, resulting in staffing shortages.
Although severe disease among children remains "uncommon," according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association, the potential for long-term consequences among children who test positive for the virus is still concerning.
"One of our biggest concerns is what's going to happen in six months to a year from now, after child has recovered from the acute illness of COVID-19, and what kind of symptoms or long-term effect is it going to have on them as they continue to grow and mature," Nadolsky said.
Another worrying trend, one doctor said, is the notable number of children who are often forced to stay alone in the hospital because their parents are battling COVID-19.
"I think most of the time, the children who have COVID infections have another family member, often an adult, who is also sick with COVID," Amit Vohra, a pediatric intensivist at the hospital, said. "Those parents are unable to visit the children at the hospital. Oftentimes, nobody's here with them for some hours of every day. So those are the times that I think our nurses step in to provide that emotional level of support that the children need ... These kids are often short of breath, they're hurting in their chest. They're breathless, they're anxious, they're concerned: Are they 'going to die?'"
The most difficult aspect of this all, according to Karen Davis, a pediatric intensive care nurse, has been watching so many children suffer through the illness.
"I'm a mother and a grandmother, so I just feel for the kids that are struggling so hard ... I take care of them, like I would want them to take care of my child," said an emotional Davis. "One of the biggest fears parents have to take care of their children is that they may die, and they may not get out of the hospital alive."