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The number of Texas kids hospitalized with COVID-19 nearly tripled in two weeks

A gloved hand pushes a needle into someone's shoulder.
Michael Minasi
A child gets vaccinated against COVID-19 at a clinic in November.

The number of Texas children hospitalized with COVID-19 nearly tripled over the last two weeks as the rapidly spreading omicron variant became the predominant strain of the virus, according to state health data released Thursday afternoon.

There were 220 kids hospitalized with COVID as of Wednesday, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. That’s up from just 74 on Dec. 15.

The sharp increase in pediatric hospitalizations is still below a September peak that saw more than 300 children in the hospital, and adults are much more likely to be hospitalized than children. But the seven-day average of pediatric hospitalizations has been rising steadily, indicating an increased risk for kids in Texas.

The Houston Independent School District on Wednesday announced a new COVID outreach clinic to provide testing and vaccinations for kids ages 5 to 11. There were 259 total active cases at Houston ISD before the holiday break, and as students prepare to return, district officials are hoping to stave off an outbreak.

Last week, HISD Superintendent Millard House III announced the district would keep its mask mandate in place in 2022.

“Safety will continue to lead the way as we prepare to welcome our 194,000 students back to school, and staff back to a new work environment Monday,” House said Wednesday.

The Austin area moved to the second-highest stage of its risk-based guidelines Wednesday, with local health officials recommending vaccinated people wear masks in all scenarios and unvaccinated people not gather with anyone outside their households at all.

In a statement, Austin Public Health interim Director Adrienne Sturrup urged children 5 and up to get vaccinated as soon as possible, saying that omicron posed a dangerous risk to young people.

Nearly 70% of people aged 5 and up are vaccinated in Travis County, but only 23% of those eligible have gotten a booster.

“Take this time when your kids are out of school to get your family fully protected from this virus,” Sturrup said.

Austin ISD has said it will not be offering virtual learning when students return from winter break. The Houston and Fort Bend school districts have both also declined to bring back virtual learning.

As of Tuesday, 75 children across North Texas were hospitalized with COVID-19, nearly double the pediatric admissions from just one day earlier.

The most recent data from Children’s Health in Dallas finds the number of pediatric COVID hospitalizations has more than doubled since Dec. 12.

At Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, the inpatient population tripled in one week, according to Dr. Mary Whitworth, medical director of infectious diseases.

“The biggest challenge for us is probably the same challenge that all the other systems are having, which is keeping enough healthy adults here to take care of the sick children,” Whitworth said. “That has not gotten better.”

Additional reporting from Houston Public Media’s Paul DeBenedetto and KUT’s Stephanie Federico.

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