Covid-19 and Omicron Variant News: Live Updates - The New York Times

Covid hospitalizations are rising for children, most likely because of a combination of lower vaccination rates and the Omicron variant.Credit...Paul Ratje for The New York Times

Even though the Omicron variant has produced a worrisome increase in hospitalizations among children in the United States, experts said that a combination of factors, including low vaccination rates, was the most likely explanation.

Doctors and researchers said they were not seeing evidence that Omicron was more threatening to children. Instead, much of the rise in pediatric admissions results from the sheer number of children who are becoming infected with both Delta and the more contagious Omicron variant, experts said, as well as low vaccination rates among children over 5.

"I think the important story to tell here is that severity is w ay down and the risk for significant severe disease seems to be lower," said Dr. David Rubin, a researcher at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Preliminary data suggests that compared with the Delta variant, Omicron appears to be causing milder illness in children, similar to early findings for adults.

That data, however, has not alleviated anxiety among parents nationwide, as caseloads in children have risen in several states.

A number of states have reported increases of about 50 percent in pediatric admissions for Covid-19 in December. New York City has experienced the most significant rise, with 68 children hospitalized last week, a fourfold jump from two weeks earlier.

Children overall are somewhat less protected from the virus than adults. Yo unger children do not yet qualify for vaccination, and only those age 16 and older qualify for booster shots, which offer the most effective shield against infection and hospitalization.

In the week ending Dec. 23, about 199,000 childhood cases were reported nationally, a 50 percent increase compared with the beginning of December, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Roughly one in 10 American children has tested positive for the virus since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the academy.

Infected children remain far less likely to become ill, compared with adults. But across the country last week, an average of 1,200 children each day have been hospitalized with the coronavirus, up from 800 at the end of November, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. (Some of those chi ldren arrived at the hospital with other medical issues.)

Those numbers are well below the peaks reached last September, although experts also fear a wave of pediatric hospitalizations in the coming weeks, fueled by Omicron's spread, holiday gatherings and a return to classrooms after Jan. 1.

"We're just holding our breath and bracing for a tsunami of impact," said Dr. Patricia Manning, the chief of staff at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

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