As a fourth wave of COVID fueled by the contagious delta variant inundates Baton Rouge hospitals, pediatric facilities are seeing a rise in the number of patients.
Our Lady of the Lake Children's Hospital on Thursday counted 11 children hospitalized — six of them in the ICU.
That's nearly double previous pandemic peaks.
Meanwhile, OLOL Children's President Dr. Trey Dunbar said, symptoms in younger patients look different this time around.
"During the first surges, there was few of the kids that actually had respiratory symptoms," he explained. "We were seeing more children who were having later effects of COVID with inflammatory syndrome. Now, it's much more pure, acute respiratory illness related to the COVID infection itself."
More than 50% of the children are under intensive care because they need "respiratory support," Dunbar said.
Their ages run from "a few days old" all the way up to 17-year-olds, according to OLOL.
None of the pediatric patients at OLOL Children's have died during this latest surge, hospital officials said.
Dunbar attributed the uptick in cases to the more-infectious delta variant and lack of any vaccine for children under 12.
"A good portion of the adult population has some sort of protection against COVID," he said. "Children are not that lucky."
In Louisiana, just 12% of those aged 12 to 17 are vaccinated.
Children are less susceptible than adults to severe disease or death from the coronavirus, with only around .01% of cases turning fatal. Roughly 500 children across the U.S. have died of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nine lived in Louisiana.
The spike in pediatric hospitalizations in the capital region reflects a statewide trend.
Baton Rouge General has treated 36 COVID-sick children in July — half in the past nine days, BRG spokeswoman Katie Johnston said.
The hospital system has no dedicated pediatric facility, so it often refers children who arrive in its emergency rooms elsewhere for hospitalization, Johnston said. On Thursday, BRG said there were no children hospitalized at its facilities. And not all of the 36 patients were referred to pediatric hospitals, he added.
BRG said it only treated four children for COVID in all of June.
In New Orleans, one pediatric patient died in the ongoing surge. On Thursday, 17 were being treated at Children's Hospital New Orleans — the highest tally to date in the pandemic.
Dr. Leron Finger, a pediatric critical care physician at the hospital, said the New Orleans facility is hardly an outlier.
"Talking to my colleagues in Baton Rouge and Shreveport," she said, "they've also seen the same number."
The Ochsner Health System, which runs hospitals throughout the state and in Baton Rouge, has admitted eight people younger than 19 years old this week. Only one in that age range was admitted the week before, officials said.
The positivity rate among coronavirus tests in kids at Ochsner jumped from 7% to 21.4% in less than a month.
As things now stand, parents gearing up to send their children back to school in a little over a week will be doing so without a statewide mask mandate.
The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which sets policies for the state's K-12 public schools, has left masking decisions up to local officials. Only one school district has made such an announcement — New Orleans, which will require indoor mask-wearing.
Given the number of coronavirus-positive children in hospitals and outpatient care, Dunbar said he's gravely concerned.
"If we're opening schools in the middle of a surge," he said, "we're going to see even more infections."
The answer, Dunbar added, is for more people to get vaccinated. Because he said holding out "does have an impact on our children."