Speaking during a briefing on the pandemic, Hochul said the spike in infections among children up to 18 serves as a warning to pediatricians and families that COVID in children is real.
Allied Physicians Group has seen a dramatic increase in the number of children being ushered through its doors, according to CEO Dr. Kerry Fierstein.
"I feel so bad, there's so many children whose Christmases were ruined," Fierstein said.
While some have presented very mild symptoms of COVID-19, others have come in with high fevers and stomach pain.
"The number of cases of COVID in the last week has really risen dramatically," Fierstien said. "Our phone lines are overwhelmed with exposures, actual illnesses and people who want testing. It's worse for the pediatrician than it's ever been."
Dr. Mary Bassett, the state's acting health commissioner, said this surge in pediatric admissions has been mainly among children who are not fully vaccinated. None of the children between 5 and 11 years old who were admitted were vaccinated, according to the state's data. In older children, about a quarter had been vaccinated.
"We need to get child vaccinations up. We need to get them higher than they are, particularly in the 5- to 11-year-old age group,," Bassett said. "Children become infected and some will be hospitalized. The vaccination coverage in this group remains too low."
Basset said parents should protect children who are 5 and older by getting them fully vaccinated while children under 5 are protected by ensuring those around them have been vaccinated and gotten boosters while adhering to other protective measures including mask-wearing, avoiding crowds and testing.
There were 70 pediatric admissions among 0- to 18-year-olds beginning the week of Dec. 5 statewide (22 of those in New York City). Then 184 children statewide (109 of them in New York City) were hospitalized for the partial week ending Dec. 23, before the holiday. Data for the full week would be released at a later date.
There were 2,371 COVID patients hospitalized in New York City, where the highly contagious omicron variant was spreading rapidly, as of Dec. 23 compared to 5,526 statewide.
Dr. Richard Schwarz, the medical director of the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, said the number of COVID patients entering his facility has doubled over the past week.
"The majority of people requiring hospitalization are unvaccinated and those requiring intensive care are almost universally unvaccinated," Schwarz said.
In anticipation of children returning to school next week, the governor also announced that the state will be distributing over 3 million at-home test kits this week to schools. Out of these, at least 2 million of these tests will be just for New York City schools, Hochul said.
With The Associated Press.