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Oklahoma Children's Hospital: COVID Admissions 'Increasing Rapidly'; Some Kids On Ventilators

Oklahoma Children's Hospital at OU Health.

Officials from Oklahoma Children's Hospital at OU Health on Thursday painted a dire picture of how they're handling a rise in COVID-19 admissions.

"Across the state today, there were 52 pediatric patients admitted to hospitals," said Dr. Stephanie DeLeon, a pediatric hospitalist, at a Thursday rally on the hospital's grounds. "One week ago, there [were] 36. Two weeks ago, there were 25. This number is increasing rapidly, and we as pediatricians are worried about the kids in our community."

"The patients being admitted now are symptomatic and they are sick. This is not the same COVID that we were seeing last year," DeLeon said.

DeLeon said the hospital has been averaging one child a day being placed on a ventilator to keep them alive, and the hospital was forced to turn away 152 children seeking care in July, a record high.

"While some of these 152 patients were able to be safely cared for in other hospitals around our state, some kids were sent out of state in order to be able to receive the specialized care that they need," DeLeon said. "It's true that most kids with COVID won't need [to be] hospitalized, but when they do there's a significant impact for the families. However, for those who need to come to us for whatever reason when we're on divert, there's perhaps even a greater impact for those families."

Pediatric infectious diseases specialist Dr. Donna Tyungu urged parents and children to exercise as much caution as they can as they return to school.

"We advise that masks be worn by anyone over the age of 2 inside school buildings. Our children were able to do this last year. There's no reason they can't do it this year," Tyungu said, noting 1,600 children were hospitalized nationwide due to COVID-19 last week, before most schools had even opened.

"Masking in school is recommended for all members of the school community," said Dr. Amy Middleman, the hospital's chief of adolescent medicine. "What a great way to role model and teach children this important concept of protecting their own health while also contributing to the wellbeing of their community. This is true citizenship."

The physicians also called on all eligible Oklahomans to get vaccinated against the virus, and all stressed the importance of keeping schools open for in-person learning by acting safely.

"Our children need to be vaxxed up, masked up and socially distanced. We need to ensure that all precautions are being met and all mitigation techniques are being used," said Dr. Demvihin Ihyembe, a pediatric behavioral health specialist.

"If this helps one person realize the importance of the topics we're discussing, that keeps one child potentially out of our hospital, giving us the opportunity to care for others who need us," said Dr. Trent Tipple, chief of neonatal and perinatal medicine. "This is something we can prevent."

During a Friday press briefing, Oklahoma State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said he would not comment on whether or not schools should require masks, but said he recommended unvaccinated children wear them. The office of Gov. Kevin Stitt issued a statement Friday celebrating that several Oklahoma school districts that have recently announced masking policies are "respecting parents’ rights to decide what is best for the health of their children and opt out of mask requirements if they choose." 

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