As the delta variant spreads rapidly across the U.S., Mississippi officials are warning about hospitalizations of children with severe cases of COVID-19.
Of the seven children currently in the intensive care unit due to COVID-19, two are on ventilators, according to State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs.
"Delta Surge - be careful," Dobbs said in a terse tweet Tuesday, while sharing the updates on the latest hospitalizations.
Dobbs initially said 12 children statewide were in the ICU due to COVID-19, though later revised that to a smaller number after a hospital corrected its report.
"Please be safe and if you are 12 or older - please protect yourself," he said.
The ages ranged from under 1 to 17, Dobbs said in a statement to ABC News Wednesday.
Children are less likely than adults to have serious COVID-19 infections. Most have mild symptoms, if any, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though in rare instances, they have developed severe cases that led to hospitalization or death.
It is not clear if any of the seven chilidren have underlying health conditions that would put them at greater risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
Dr. Alan Jones, associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, told ABC News Wednesday that his facility was seeing a “significant increase” in pediatric patients over the last several weeks.
The medical center is currently treating five children with confirmed COVID-19 cases, two of whom are in the ICU. Two other children at the hospital are being investigated for potential COVID-19 infections, he said.
The children, who are in stable condition, range from infants to teenagers, Jones said. He could not share any further details about the cases but said that many patients within his hospital who are currently in the ICU do have some chronic, underlying comorbidity diseases that would put them at a higher risk of having a more severe illness associated with COVID-19.
The state has been seeing a "pretty alarming" increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Dobbs said during a press briefing last Friday, as the highly contagious delta variant, which was initially identified in India, has quickly become the dominant variant in the state.
"We have seen pretty much an entire takeover of the delta variant for our transmission," Dobbs said during the briefing, noting that the current cases in the state are "pretty much all delta."
Between June 15 and July 9, the delta variant accounted for 80% of all specimens sequenced in the state, according to Dobbs.
Hospital systems are not currently overwhelmed, but Dobbs said there are "concerns about it going forward, as has been seen in other states" due to delta, which has become the dominant variant nationwide.
Mississippi's daily COVID-19 case average has more than doubled in the last three weeks. Less than three weeks ago, there were under 100 patients receiving care for COVID-19 in Mississippi. As of July 11, there were nearly 200. Hospital admissions have also increased by 26.7% in the last week.
The state has seen an increase in COVID-19 outbreaks as well, particularly among youth, in summer activities and nursing homes, Dobbs said.
Jones said his hospital's pediatric patients seem to be more symptomatic than the children who became ill earlier in the pandemic, which he attributed to the delta variant.
"These seem to be more classic COVID symptoms -- fever, cough, respiratory illness," he said. "I suspect that's probably because this delta variant is importing a little more severe illness in the pediatric population than those earlier strains that were circulating."
The delta variant is surging as Mississippi has the second-lowest vaccination rate in the country, with approximately one-third of the state's total population fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. The "vast majority" of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the state now are in unvaccinated people, Dobbs said.
Due to the low vaccination rate, the state health department advised Friday that those who are ages 65 and older or have chronic medical conditions avoid mass indoor gatherings for several weeks.
"Our collective under-vaccination in the state has put us all at risk, especially the most vulnerable," Dobbs said.
Editor's Note: A state health officer has issued a correction revising the number of children hospitalized with severe COVID-19 cases from 12 to seven.