The pandemic has never been so hard on Tennessee children as it has been the last few weeks. Cases surpassed the previous high set in the winter surge, and hospitals are feeling the pinch.
The 7-day average for school-age is now close to 1,400 new cases a day, with nearly 16,000 new infections statewide in 5-18 year-olds over the last two weeks, according to state data.
At this point, nearly a third of all new cases are among Tennessee kids 18 and younger — also a record for the pandemic.
Pediatric hospitalizations still represent a tiny fraction of the overall totals, which are climbing every day. But already children’s hospitals, which have less flexibility than adult hospitals, are having to make space for COVID patients.
Dr. Shelley Ost at Le Bonheur in Memphis says one patient last week had to be moved out of the pediatric ICU to create room for another child with COVID who was in cardiac arrest. And with new infections still climbing, recent history tells them the worst is yet to come.
“As the cases go up, we only know this is going to multiply,” Ost says. “And there’s already nowhere for these patients to go because there’s just not capacity.”
Statewide numbers show children’s hospitals have seen a small drop in COVID patients in recent days but they remain elevated.
Outpatient offices are seeing the strain caused by non-critical cases. One primary care physician in Franklin, Dr. Diane Sepehri-Harvey, says on Friday morning she treated three families with new COVID cases — meaning each had to quarantine.
“So this is very much impacting our entire community, not just the ones who are hospitalized but the community at large. We are finding people not being able to work and not being able to go to school because of these outbreaks,” Sepehri-Harvey says.
On Friday, doctors submitted a petition to Gov. Bill Lee signed by more than 5,000 mostly medical workers that demanded that he support mask mandates in schools. Only a handful of districts in the state are requiring universal masking, though Franklin Special School District joined late Friday.
Hospital executives have also been increasingly vocal about the need for masks with children, who mostly remain unvaccinated. And they’ve warned that parents will need to watch their kids not only for symptoms of COVID but also the mysterious syndrome, MIS-C, that can accompany even asymptomatic cases.