Hospitalizations of Children Dropped During COVID-19 Pandemic: Study

Hospitalizations of Children Dropped During COVID-19 Pandemic: Study
An 11-year-old girl watches as a nurse prepares a syringe with a dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, at The Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York City on Nov. 3, 2021. (Mary Altaffer/AP Photo)
Naveen Athrappully

Hospitalizations among children during the COVID-19 pandemic declined, according to a study published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but those who were hospitalized were mostly there due to the coronavirus.

The study looked at children up to the age of 17 years, splitting them into three age groups: 0 to 4, 5 to 11, and 12 to 17.

“Compared with 2019, overall pediatric emergency department visits decreased by 51 percent, 22 percent, and 23 percent during 2020, 2021, and January 2022, respectively,” according to the Feb. 18 report.

“COVID-19 visits predominated across all pediatric ages; visits for other respiratory illnesses mostly declined. Number and proportion of visits increased for certain injuries (e.g., firearm injuries, self-harm, and drug poisonings), some chronic diseases, and behavioral health concerns, with variations by age group.”

Pediatric emergency department visits “declined sharply” during 2020 as compared to 2019. During January 2021 and January 2022, emergency department visits remained lower when compared to the period prior to the pandemic.

The report speculates that the decline in emergency department visits might be due to the “parents’ and caregivers’ risk perception and avoidance of [emergency departments] or health care, among other reasons.”

By the end of 2021, an increase in weekly emergency department visits among kids up to 4 years old was observed in line with the increased spread of the Omicron variant. However, there weren’t any notable increases among the other two age groups.

“COVID-19-associated visits, and those for exposure and screening for infectious disease, were the top two visit diagnoses for children of all age groups during January 2022,” the report said.

The research suggests that COVID-19 preventive measures may have played a role in bringing down the transmission of other respiratory viruses as the proportion of visits for non-COVID-19 respiratory illnesses among the three age groups declined.

But in January 2022, the proportion of visits went up for respiratory symptoms such as coughs and other conditions such as fevers and viral infections.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also exacerbated already high mental health concerns among children, the report said.

Since the beginning of this year, COVID-19 infections among kids have “spiked dramatically” due to the spread of the Omicron variant, according to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which collaborated with the Children’s Hospital Association.

The report analyzed data as of Feb. 10 and found that even though the number of child COVID-19 cases for the week fell to roughly 300,000 from the 1.15 million reported for the week ending Jan. 20, the number of child infections for the year still remained high, at 4.5 million cases.

“Over 12.3 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic; over 2.9 million of these cases have been added in the past 4 weeks. For the 27th week in a row, child COVID-19 cases are above 100,000. Since the first week of September, there have been nearly 7.3 million additional child cases,” the AAP report said.

Concerns about higher COVID-19 hospital admissions have been refuted by some experts. In December, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House pandemic adviser, stated that COVID-19 cases among children were being overcounted at hospitals as kids are automatically tested when they’re admitted.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, pointed out that most kids were not being hospitalized due to COVID-19 infection. Instead, they visited hospitals for some other health issues and ended up being diagnosed as COVID-19-positive during tests.