This summer, the proliferation of the delta variant left pediatric hospitals in an unenviable position, and facilities were struggling to keep up with the demand as more children became infected with COVID-19. But after months under a deluge of new infections, infections are plateauing.
While most children are not as impacted as adults, the older children and teenagers present more like adults, and many end up in the ICU. “We’re having more critical care days than we have in the surges before,” says Tammy Webb, Children’s Health’s chief nursing officer. About 70 percent of the population at Children’s Health cannot be vaccinated, leaving them vulnerable to the disease. But things are improving, if slowly.
“Hope is on the horizon because we will have more information about childhood vaccines for ages 2-11, “Webbs says. “We also are seeing a bit of a plateau in our community here in DFW and North Texas of COVID-19 infections.”
Last week, Pfizer asked the FDA to give emergency use approval to children ages 5-11. “With new cases in children in the U.S. continuing to be at a high level, this submission is an important step in our ongoing effort against #COVID19,” Pfizer tweeted.
Despite the help on the way, the summer surge coincided with a delayed RSV season as well as lower summer staffing levels, Webb says. “It has been very taxing. It’s just been ongoing for so very long,” Webb says.
With such an unprecedented surge of children requiring hospitalization, healthcare facilities are required to work collaboratively. Children’s Health is made of three separate care locations, which often had to work together to ensure patients could be adequately treated. “We are very fluid, and we can share resources among our hospitals, and so we’ve been able to help each other out quite well,” Webb says. “We’ve had the advantage with our ability to be agile and flexible with our team and our resources.”
But did the situation ever become so dire that Children’s Medical Center had to turn patients away? When D CEO asked the hospital multiple times whether it had ever been so full that they couldn’t take any more patients, the response wasn’t particularly clear, and it didn’t deny doing so. “We have always collaborated with pediatric hospitals in our region to ensure the needs and care for children in our community are met,’ the hospital said in a statement.
But despite the pressure and the exhausting last couple of years, the experience is not without silver linings. Children’s hospitals now have tests that have been developed during the pandemic that have allowed testing that can determine whether a child has COVID-19, RSV, or the seasonal flu, despite presenting with similar symptoms. It enables the hospital to provide appropriate treatment much sooner than in past flu seasons.
Universal masking that reduced infections and other protective measures are also consequential improvements from the pandemic. “I believe that there will be some positive changes in healthcare that come forward based on our experience with a pandemic,” Webb says.
The past year and a half have been trying for all healthcare facilities, and the most recent surge has put Children’s Health and others through the wringer. Still, they persevere. “I want to assure our community that we’re here for them, that we’re prepared for this pandemic, and that we’re a safe place to be,” Webb says. “All of our caregivers are very committed to continuing to provide the exceptional care for them that we always have, and we want to make sure that people are seeking health care for their children when they need it.”