SALT LAKE CITY — While doctors acknowledge COVID-19 usually causes minor symptoms in children, officials at Primary Children's Hospital say they're grappling with an influx of patients with coronavirus and other respiratory infections — often at the same time.
A teenage patient died at the hospital last week due to COVID-19.
"It was absolutely devastating on the staff here," Dr. Andrew Pavia said Thursday during a news conference.
According to the pediatric infectious disease expert and Primary Children's director of hospital epidemiology, children's hospitals nationally — including Utah's only children's hospital — are "filled to the brim" and functioning in a most extreme surge capacity. That includes placing two children in each room and canceling important surgeries to make space in the intensive care unit, Pavia said.
Meanwhile on Thursday, Utah health officials reported 2,165 new COVID-19 cases — the most in a single day since Jan. 26 — and 10 new deaths.
School-age children accounted for 544 of the cases — 231 of the cases were ages 5-10, 152 cases were 11-13, and 161 cases were 14-17, according to the Utah Department of Health.
The rolling, seven-day average for new cases stands at 1,431 per day, and the percent positivity rate of people tested is 12.3%.
On Thursday, 516 patients were hospitalized with the coronavirus throughout Utah — 33 more than the previous day. Referral intensive care units, that can treat the most serious patients, are 92.5% full, and overall ICU usage is now at 88.2%. Beds in nonintensive units throughout the state are 63.1% full.
Across the U.S., the number of children infected with COVID-19 in the last week was 250,000, more than any other time during the pandemic, he said, a result in changing behaviors, according to Pavia.
The proportion of cases in Utah children is going up "even faster," he said. Last winter, 12% of cases children on average. Now, it's 25%, "in spite of the fact that it's very hard to get your children tested," the doctor said.
People "put a lot of faith" in the fact that most children will only have mild illness, but each time a child gets sick a parent needs to stay home from work, siblings are quarantined, and a child misses out on a week of school, Pavia noted.
"So these mild illnesses are not trivial as people like to portray them. They have a tremendous impact," he said.
And a small minority of children do get really sick, he said, noting that 30,000 children across the U.S. were hospitalized last week with the disease.
The strain at Primary Children's Hospital isn't due to COVID-19 itself, but a combination of it with seasonal RSV and trauma cases. Coronavirus is the "straw that's breaking the camel's back in the health care system," Pavia said.
Jacob Ferrin, a registered nurse in the pediatric ICU at Primary Children's Hospital, noted that the regional hospital is considered a "last line of defense" for kids not only in the Beehive State but between Denver to Los Angeles and Phoenix to Canada.
With adult critical cases, it's often due to age-related health issues, Ferrin said. But for children, something is either "built wrong" or something happened to them to put them more at risk.
Children at the hospital with inflammation due to other viruses are sometimes contracting COVID-19 as well, prolonging their critical care stays, Ferrin said.
"When kids have that much inflammation going through their body, everything hurts. Their eyes can get really red, it hurts when you touch their arm," he said.
Nurses working in the pediatric ICU "are very mindful of our mission and who we serve. Since I've been able to be part of the team, I feel like I am part of one of the best clinical and social teams that I've ever seen. We help patients and families deal with situations that come to them on the worst days of their life, and since the pandemic has started, we've seen a dramatic increase in the amount of people having the worst day of their life," Ferrin explained.
The hospital experience takes a toll on parents as their kids are put in isolation to protect cancer patients and others at higher risk of being infected, he said.
While most kids who contract the coronavirus will be "fine," Ferrin pleaded with Utahns to take the disease seriously to help health care workers.
Pavia urged everyone who spends time around children including parents, teachers and relatives to get vaccinated.
"Another thing we know works is masking in schools ... and we take it very personally when people tell us that it doesn't work, or when people tell us masks are a personal choice," he said, comparing it to running a stop light.
He asked residents to help hospitals protect their ability to care for kids with cancer or who get injured in car accidents.
Health care workers administered 19,255 vaccines since the previous day's report, bringing total vaccinations given in Utah to 3,315,722, according to the Utah Department of Health.
In the last 28 days, unvaccinated residents have faced 4.7 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19, 6.2 times greater risk of being hospitalized due to COVID-19, and 5.4 times greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 than vaccinated people. Since Feb. 1, people who are unvaccinated are at 5.3 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19, 5.2 times greater risk of being hospitalized due to COVID-19, and 4.5 times greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 than vaccinated people.
The latest deaths reported Thursday:
- A Salt Lake County woman between the ages of 65 and 84, who was hospitalized when she died.
- A Utah County man, 25-44, hospitalized.
- Two Washington County men, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Davis County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Weber County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Weber County woman, 25-44, hospitalized.
- A Washington County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Duchesne County woman, 45-64, hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County woman, 45-64, unknown hospitalization or long-term care facility status.