New York children are being hospitalized for COVID-19 at an alarming rate amid the state’s omicron outbreak, with pediatricians reporting that many seriously ill kids are unvaccinated.
To deal with the spike among children, officials announced a new slate of protocols for New York City schools on Tuesday, including a ramped-up testing campaign as part of their efforts to return children to classrooms as planned by Jan. 3.
The number of infected people under the age of 18 in city hospitals has quadrupled since the first week of December, when 22 children were hospitalized with COVID-19, according to an advisory issued Friday by the State Health Department to health care providers about the spike. The number climbed up to 109 over three weeks later, the advisory said.
Statewide, pediatric hospital admissions have more than doubled, from 70 to 184, officials said. None of the hospitalized children between the ages of 5 and 11 had been vaccinated.
“Many people continue to think that children don't become infected with COVID. This is not true. Children become infected and some will be hospitalized. The immunization coverage in this group, the vaccination coverage, remains too low,” State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said Monday during a press briefing with Gov. Kathy Hochul.
While the overall vaccination rate in New York remains relatively high among adults, at 95% as of Monday, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the child vaccination rate, particularly among younger kids, is lagging behind. Less than 17% of 5 to 11 year olds had been vaccinated as of Friday, state officials said. The age group has been eligible to receive the vaccine since Nov. 3.
Hochul on Monday urged New Yorkers to get their children vaccinated while schools are on winter break. She also said the state is ramping up its school testing program, and will provide 2 million rapid test kits to New York City schools by the end of the week, along with an additional 3.3 million to be spread out among the state’s other 730 school districts. The tests will be distributed through 60 hubs set up throughout the state.
Despite the surge in child hospitalizations, Hochul said she is “unwavering” in her decision to reopen schools on Jan. 3, but said their status is “subject to possible changes in the future.”
In New York City, officials on Tuesday reiterated Hochul’s commitment to keep schools up and running and announced new protocols as part of a plan they call “Stay Safe, Stay Open.” Negative tests will not be required to return after the winter break, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Mayor-elect Eric Adams announced Tuesday. The city will also begin tracking mass spread only, rather than individual cases.
In addition, all teachers who test positive will be allowed to return to classrooms within five days, according to the policy that adheres to new state and federal guidance. Asymptomatic students do not need to stay home, city officials said.
“What we know from our data over the school year so far is that schools remain among the safest settings in our communities,” city Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi tweeted Tuesday. “For any case identified in an NYC public school between October to December, only 1 in 120 close contacts developed COVID-19 – that’s 0.83%.”
Elected officials, including Council Member Mark Levine and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, said Tuesday they were wary of the lack of a testing requirement for school children, while others said the existing program is falling short.
“Respectfully, Mr. Mayor, we told your office that testing was woefully inadequate back at our early September hearing and the response I was given was NYC was using the gold standard. Your administration still has to release data on (the) number of consent forms collected per school,” Council Member and Education Committee Chair Mark Treyger tweeted Tuesday, referring to the signed paperwork children are required to provide to be tested in schools.
Meanwhile, state officials announced Tuesday a 19% statewide testing positivity rate, along with an additional 40,780 new cases. The adult hospitalization rate in New York is also rising, with an additional 1,148 New Yorkers admitted Monday, officials said Tuesday. A total of 77 people died from the virus across the state within the past 24 hours.