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Pediatric COVID hospitalizations surge in the Upstate amid omicron spike

vaccine sign

A sign points toward a COVID-19 vaccination site at Prisma Health Greenville Memorial Hospital. Ryan Gilchrest/staff

In recent months, the Prisma Health Children's Hospital in Greenville has seen an average of one or two COVID-19 patients a week.

On Jan. 6 alone, the facility had nine patients, a number doctors feel will continue to go up now that kids are back in school amid a surge driven by the omicron variant.

During a virtual press event, Prisma Health Children's Hospital Pediatric Medical Director Robin LaCroix said given the accelerating rate of community spread and greater transmissibility of the omicron strain, she expects the return to class will drive a spike in pediatric cases in the weeks to come. 

"Given the degree of contagion that we have and the number of students, even in our local school district, who have been reported positive just within this first week, and if each of those children infect a subset of children in their classes, we will see these numbers increase," she said.

About 5,100 Greenville County students were absent as of Jan. 4, the second day back from winter break, according to district spokesman Tim Waller, about 7 percent of the district's enrollment. While higher than a typical year, the number is not extreme relative to previous surges, he said.

In the Upstate, LaCroix said, the rate of transmission is "extremely high." On Jan. 3, close to half of all test results in the region came back positive. 

With higher spread, the number of inpatients across the state is rising as well. Dr. Steve Shelton, an emergency medicine physician with Prisma Health Richland Hospital, said the health system was treating 438 patients as of Jan. 6 versus 85 this time last month, and is fast approaching its record number of 568. Of those hospitalized, 80 percent are not vaccinated. 

As of Jan, 6, 37 children were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Prisma's four pediatric hospitals across the state, one shy of a record. Only one of those children was fully vaccinated. All of the children being treated at Prisma Health Children's Hospital in Greenville as of Jan. 6 were unvaccinated, LaCroix said. 

Nine children in South Carolina currently require critical care and two are on ventilators.

"Our children admitted are either too young to be vaccinated, meaning they're less than 5 years of age, or they are older but have not yet received vaccine," LaCroix said. "So again, this is an opportunity for parents to move forward to get their children protected. We know that the vaccine reduces the severity of the illness if the children become infected."

Staff reporter Stephanie Mirah contributed to this story.

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