Tampa Bay area doctors shed light on COVID-19's impact on children

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Posted at 5:56 PM, Sep 10, 2021

TAMPA, Fla. — The pandemic’s latest surge has taken a toll on some of the most vulnerable: children. Doctors in the Tampa Bay area are giving front-line accounts of what the virus is doing to kids while also sharing what they hope people do to help protect them.

“Every day, I just come into work and wonder, ‘Is this going to be the first pediatric death that I see at TGH from COVID?’ Because it’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of time with the way the numbers are going and every day, I just wonder if this is going to be the day,” said Danielle Strutt, a pediatric ER nurse.

They are the heartbreaking accounts from the staff at Tampa General Hospital dealing with the scary reality of COVID-19 and kids. TGH shared a video on social media, dubbed “The COVID Chronicles 2.0: Volume 4.”

“When kids have COVID, they struggle to breathe and a lot of them go on respiratory support,” said Mary Katherine Szikszay, a registered nurse. “It’s so difficult for families to watch their child suffer to that extent.”

Doctors across the Tampa Bay area are seeing a similar situation. In the past few months, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital says it has seen one of the highest increases in COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with cases in children nearly tripling last month. In August, it says 516 children tested positive for COVID-19, while there were just over 180 positive tests in July.

“It seems like it’s maybe starting to level off a little bit. What we are seeing in the community at large is we are seeing that the rates are going down slightly, which is a good sign,” said Dr. Allison Messina, the chief of the Division of Infectious Disease at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital. “We don’t know if the children are going to lag behind that a little bit or not.”

All Children’s says while many of those children are diagnosed in the emergency center and discharged to manage their symptoms at home, the hospital still has about 20 patients with COVID-19 in hospital beds each day.

Dr. Messina says the really sick kids they’re seeing tend to be older teenagers.

“Those are the kids that are getting the real bad COVID pneumonia, and those are also kids who could’ve been vaccinated, and by and large, the people that we’re seeing come into the hospital are unvaccinated,” said Dr. Messina. “And it’s really heartbreaking to see those older teenagers who could’ve been vaccinated get very sick.”

Dr. Messina says they’re also seeing patients who have underlying health conditions that are made worse by a COVID diagnosis. She explains whenever you have a contagious virus in a pandemic situation like we have, she says the thing that slows it down is immunity.

“Either you get immunity by being vaccinated or you get immunity by having the disease and recovering from it. Those two things work together to decrease the numbers,” said Messina. “Unfortunately, the children a lot of them, under the age of 12 of course, don’t have the option to get vaccinated, so the only way they can achieve immunity is to get sick, which is a terrible way to achieve immunity.”

Doctors hope a vaccine will be available to even younger kids soon, while they continue to urge everyone to take steps now, like wearing a mask and getting vaccinated, to help protect others.