The rate of pediatric coronavirus infections is on the rise in Alaska, approaching 20-percent of all cases in the state over the course of the pandemic.
But so far, severe outcomes for children who are diagnosed with COVID-19 have remained fairly low.
The weekly press teleconference of physicians, nurses, and pharmacists at the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services on September 16 was focused primarily on Alaska’s current surge, and it’s strain on hospital capacity. Right now, nationwide, the number of cases per 100,000 people is running at just over 300; in Alaska, though, the seven-day average is over twice that much — 634 cases per 100,000.
And now teenagers comprise the second-largest demographic of new infections, behind 20-somethings. And there are now more children under ten contracting COVID in Alaska, than people over 60 .
As the saying goes, this is not your grandfather’s pandemic anymore.
“Pediatric patients to date for the pandemic and Alaska make up 19.4% of all of our cases, that’s picked up,” said Dr. Anne Zink, chief medical officer for the state Department of Health. “And if you just look at August and September specifically, it’s 26.1% of all of our cases.”
Zink said that COVID patients now occupied 20-percent of hospital beds in Alaska — that’s something over 200 patients, 34 of them connected to ventilators.
But only a very small fraction of these patients are children. So far, the prevalence of the delta variant has not made kids sicker than previous variants — and this is a good thing.
Dr. Joe McLaughlin is the director of the state Section of Epidemiology.
“Fortunately, one of the things we’re seeing is even though we are seeing increases in the number of pediatric cases as well as hospitalizations, and severe outcomes, the proportion of cases among the pediatric population that are severe doesn’t appear so far to be different in the Delta era compared to the pre Delta era. So that’s one little bit of difference,” said McLaughlin.
Whether someone is vaccinated or not remains the single largest risk factor of whether they’ll end up in the hospital with COVID, and Alaska’s rate is ticking up. Between 6,000 and 7,000 Alaskans are getting vaccinated each week.
With winter on the way, Dr. Zink rolled out an analogy that she hoped would drive the point home for everyone who’s been waiting to get vaccinated.
“Think of this, the COVID storm, we got a lot of COVID and so we need to bundle up, we need to put on our mass, we need to get vaccinated, we need to keep our distance,” said Zink. “Just like in a bad storm. We have our snow tires on we drive at a distance. The difference here is that we help to control this weather. We collectively determine how many cases we end up seeing or not seeing within the state.”