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Baton Rouge children’s hospital nears capacity, braces for surge in Covid cases ahead of the school year


By Hannah Sarisohn, CNN

A children’s hospital in Louisiana is experiencing a wave of Covid-19 hospitalizations as the Delta variant pervades the region.

Dr. Trey Dunbar, president of Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital, said the spike in Covid-19 cases right now is twice what they saw in the pandemic’s initial surge last year.

“We’ve seen over the past couple of weeks a pretty dramatic increase,” Dunbar told CNN by phone Friday. “A good number more of children are requiring hospitalization.”

Dunbar said they are seeing more children sick from a respiratory standpoint and an increase in those who are acutely ill from Covid-19. Many children require breathing support of some kind, whether it be extra oxygen or breathing tubes, he added.

In July alone, 62 children came into the emergency room and tested positive with Covid-19, with 58 of them coming to the hospital in the past two weeks, Nicole Terry, the communications manager for Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System, said Friday.

In comparison, only 18 children came to the emergency room with Covid-19 in all of June, Terry said.

The cases in July make up nearly half of all of the positive cases the hospital has seen this year, as well as nearly half of all of the positive cases from the first wave of the pandemic from March-August 2020, Terry said.

The children’s hospital treats children as young as 4 weeks up to 17 years, she said.

The hospital is currently treating seven Covid-19 patients, but Dunbar said they’ve had anywhere from eight to 12 patients per day. The hospital is up to about six admissions per day with about 50% of those patients going to the ICU, Dunbar said.

“Any time a child is sick, it’s hard. You place it in the context of Covid, it’s hard. Restricted visitation its hard, certainly for younger children. Teenagers can understand what’s going on, younger children might not understand,” Dunbar said.

“There’s still unknown and fear in Covid, in particular what that might mean for a child in the short and long term.”

Dunbar attributes the spike in cases to the Delta variant, which he said is prevalent in the Baton Rouge community, as well as low vaccination numbers statewide.

According to Louisiana’s health department, 90% of the more than 5,000 Covid cases from July 15-21 were people who were not fully vaccinated.

Dunbar said he anticipates an increase in cases when the school year begins in just a few weeks. Though the state’s health department recommends masking in schools, Dunbar said each local district has control.

At West Baton Rouge Schools, masks are recommended but not required for students when they return to classrooms Aug. 9, according to the district’s website.

The East Baton Rough Parish School System said on its website that guidance will be released Aug. 3, just a week before students are scheduled to start school on Aug. 11.

For keeping kids safe at school, Dunbar said students 12-years-old and older should get vaccinated. For students who are ineligible for the vaccine, Dunbar said the answer is masking and social distancing.

In preparing for the anticipated surge, Dunbar said the hospital is actually lucky because many southern hospitals are experiencing staffing shortages. Our Lady of the Lake will be increasing staff and opening new hospital beds.

Dunbar said most children’s hospitals this summer, especially in the south, have also been very busy with RSV, or Respiratory Syncytial Virus.

“You start with the pandemic for the last 18 months, and then RSV for the last couple of months, it just seems to be one thing after another that’s keeping our teams very busy,” Dunbar said.

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