Surging NYC coronavirus spread brings warnings for children

The spiraling coronavirus outbreak numbers in New York state are coming with a new warning of a disturbing rise in pediatric hospitalizations — particularly of unvaccinated children — even as the state touts a high vaccination rate among adults.

The New York State Department of Health’s warning Friday of a "striking increase" in new hospital admissions for children was being publicized a day later as many coronavirus testing centers in New York City were closed for Christmas.

A health advisory said the recent fourfold increase in admissions that began the week of Dec. 5 are concentrated in New York City and the surrounding area, where the highly contagious omicron variant was spreading rapidly.

"The risks of COVID-19 for children are real," acting State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said in a release.

"We are alerting New Yorkers to this recent striking increase in pediatric COVID-19 admissions so that pediatricians, parents and guardians can take urgent action to protect our youngest New Yorkers. We must use all available safe and effective infection control, prevention and mitigation strategies," she said.

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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.

On Friday, Gov. Kathy Hochul boasted at a cheerful coronavirus update briefing of the state's high vaccination rate, saying that 95% of New York adults over age 18 have had at least one vaccine dose.

She also disclosed that the number of new infections had soared above 44,000 on Thursday to a new single-day record. Still, the rising numbers had not translated to a corresponding rise in hospitalizations or deaths, though those statistics tend to be lagging indicators.

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Her words came as New Yorkers continued struggling to get tested for the coronavirus, with many sites closed on Saturday, and testing kits in short supply. The desperation was apparent at a free giveaway of home coronavirus test kits in a Brooklyn neighborhood where police had to be called to quell a crowd of angry people who were disappointed when the supply ran out.

The state health department advisory later Friday provided a grimmer picture for children.

For the week ending last Sunday, no 5- to 11-year-old child admitted to a hospital for COVID-19 treatment was fully vaccinated, it said.

And only a quarter of 12- to 17-year-olds who were admitted to the hospital were fully vaccinated, it said.

"These startling trends underscore the critical importance of protecting our children from COVID-19. The Department urges parents and guardians of all children five years and older to get their kids fully vaccinated as soon as possible," the advisory stated.