Nearly a quarter of all COVID-19 hospitalizations of people under the age of 18 in Alberta have occurred in the past month, as the Omicron variant pushes all hospital admissions to record highs.
Throughout the pandemic there have been a total of 659 hospitalizations of children in Alberta as of Thursday, with 160 of those coming since Dec. 31, show numbers posted to the province’s website. In the same time frame last year, there were 35 admissions of people under the age of 18.
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday that the increasing numbers can be concerning to parents but noted children make up approximately four per cent of all COVID-19 hospitalizations. She said that as hospitalization rates reach record highs, the number of kids needing care will also increase.
“This is particularly true for those under one who have always been the childhood group with the highest risk of severe outcomes from infection,” said Hinshaw. “Over the entire pandemic, children under one have had a similar risk of needing hospital care for COVID as adults aged 40 to 49, which is dramatically higher than any other childhood age group.”
Albertans under the age of one have accounted for 165 COVID-19 hospitalizations in Alberta throughout the pandemic. Alberta reported 1,131 COVID patients in hospitals on Thursday, including 108 in intensive care.
Thursday’s numbers included 11 additional pediatric hospitalizations compared to Wednesday. There have been 109 children admitted to the ICU with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and five children in Alberta have died with the virus, including a child between the ages of five and nine whose death was reported earlier this week.
Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, said Thursday there were approximately 38 children in hospital.
“Don’t underestimate the stress and the trauma that these children have when they are hospitalized. But right now we are able to absorb any COVID hospitalizations for pediatrics,” said Yiu.
Hinshaw said the last time she looked at the data there were no children in hospital who have received at least one dose of vaccine. She also said it is clear that kids who live in a household where all of the adults are vaccinated are at less risk of being hospitalized.
“It’s really important that those who are pregnant access the protection of vaccine for themselves and for their children. It’s also critical again that all of us do everything we can to minimize transmission in the community so that we can lower the chances of children being exposed,” said Hinshaw.
She said parents should expect that if their children are going to events or outings in the community, someone at those functions will have Omicron. She said every family must assess their own risk.
“If parents are trying to decide what activities their children should engage in, they need to understand that there’s a high likelihood that there could be someone infectious at almost any activity,” said Hinshaw.
Most children in Alberta cannot currently access a PCR COVID-19 test after the province rolled back eligibility earlier this month. Hinshaw also announced earlier this month that outbreaks outside of hospitals, continuing care settings and congregate living facilities would not be reported. Representatives for the province have said there will be a new system to report outbreaks in schools but few details have been announced.
A COVID-19 outbreak was declared in one unit at the Alberta’s Children Hospital on Jan. 18 after three patients tested positive.