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COVID-19

As Texas Schools Reopen, Kids With COVID-19 Are Filling Hospitals In Record Numbers

A student wearing a mask walks into school.
Jordan Vonderhaar
/
KUT
A student wearing a mask walks into Sanchez Elementary School in East Austin on the first day of school on Tuesday.

The number of pediatric COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals is higher now than at any point during the pandemic, according to state health data.

As of Wednesday, hospitals across the state were reporting 218 pediatric patients with COVID-19, the Texas Department of State Health Services confirmed.

On Dec. 24, the previous peak, that number was 163. Before that, the peak was 153 on Aug. 10. 2020. The numbers do not specify how many of that total were in intensive care unit beds.

The number of kids in Texas hospitals is especially concerning to health leaders as schools begin to reopen. As of Friday morning, Houston ISD — the state's largest school district — reported 118 total active COVID-19 cases, 43 of which are among students. Sixty-two percent of confirmed cases are in elementary school buildings.

“We’re seeing the largest amount of children in our hospitals…in the entire history of this pandemic," Texas Medical Center CEO Bill McKeon told Houston Matters this week. "That’s really alarming, and these are very, very sick children."

Almost 20% of active COVID-19 cases tracked by the Texas Medical Center are children, McKeon added.

Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order that prohibited local governments and Texas school districts from imposing mask and vaccine mandates. That order has been met with legal challenges, as officials cite the need for masks to help slow the spread of the disease.

At least 43 school districts across the state are currently defying that order, according to Attorney General Ken Paxton's office.

Paxton's office has sued to block school districts, counties and cities from enacting such mandates. But on Thursday, the Texas Supreme Court denied a request to undo temporary restraining orders against Abbott's directive, allowing those counties and school districts to keep mask mandates for now.

Paxton also filed a lawsuit against San Antonio ISD over a requirement for all district employees to be vaccinated.

The hospitalization data comes as the more transmissible coronavirus delta variant spreads. During the last week, Texas Children's Hospital in Houston saw more than 40 children per day with COVID-19. About one-third of those patients are in ICU beds, and 10% of their ICU beds are now full, according to Dr. Lara S. Shekerdemian, the hospital's chief of critical care.

Shekerdemian told Houston Matters on Thursday that while there is capacity at Texas Children's, the recent surge is cause for concern.

"We are in the middle of a really significant surge in pediatric patients in our hospital," Shekerdemian said. "I think it's safe to say that the numbers we are seeing now probably exceed our previous surge at the beginning of this year."
Copyright 2021 Houston Public Media News 88.7. To see more, visit Houston Public Media News 88.7.

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