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Health officials say Austin may be past its omicron peak, but pediatric cases continue to rise

Pharmacist Christine Lanier holds up a vaccine card after administering a pediatric COVID-19 vaccine.
Michael Minasi
Pharmacist Christine Lanier holds up a vaccine card after administering a pediatric COVID-19 vaccine.

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Local health officials say the number of COVID-19 infections in Austin has begun to drop after a sharp surge in the past few weeks due to the highly contagious omicron variant.

Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said on Friday that the Austin area might be past the worst of this latest rise in cases.

“We are starting to see our case numbers go down,” she said. “We are really encouraged by that.”

Janet Pichette, Austin Public Health’s chief epidemiologist, said last week the health department received more than 22,000 positive lab results for COVID. This week, however, she said the department received only 15,000 — a 31% decrease.

“I think we have plateaued and have definitely reached a peak, and I think we are on the downhill slide,” Pichette said.

But local officials say they are keeping an eye on a more contagious sub-variant of omicron that has recently been found in Texas.

Like the original omicron variant, this latest sub-variant spreads quickly and causes generally milder infections. Pichette said it’s possible that could cause another rise in cases in the coming weeks, but it’s too soon to say.

Walkes said even as cases are going down at the moment, the number of pediatric infections and hospitalizations remains a serious concern. She said about 91% of children being admitted to the hospital with COVID are unvaccinated.

Dr. Sarmistha Hauger, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Dell Children’s Medical Center, said since the pandemic began, her hospital has taken in more than 300 pediatric COVID-positive patients.

“Since January, when this omicron surge occurred, we exceeded how many admissions we had in the summer with delta surge,” she said.

Hauger said the hospital has also been taking in an increased number of very young patients. She said about 37% of the children being admitted with COVID are between 0 and 4 years old.

“This is a big change for us,” she said.

Hauger said about a fifth of the children being admitted have required intensive care because their oxygen levels have gotten so low. To prevent these kids of hospitalizations, she said, it’s important for all family members who are eligible to be vaccinated to get the vaccine.

“The vast majority of these children [being hospitalized] are unvaccinated and their families are unvaccinated,” Hauger said.

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Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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