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As new school year begins, pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations are at winter peak levels

Vaccinations in younger children have increased rapidly with the school year beginning and cases rising

FORT WORTH, Texas — Pediatric COVID hospitalizations in North Texas are the highest they’ve been since the beginning of the pandemic.

The North Central Texas Trauma Regional Advisory Council (NCTTRAC) tracks hospitalizations in the region and reported 55 children hospitalized Monday. Saturday, the total hit 56, up from 35 children hospitalized less than two weeks ago.

NCTTRAC says during the winter peak of the pandemic, pediatric hospitalizations hovered in the mid-40s.

“We're tending to see more children come in with more severe disease,” Dr. Marc Mazade, an infectious disease doctor at Cook Children’s Hospital said. “We've had some patients come across come from across the state looking for beds.”

Kids aged 12-18 have the lowest vaccination levels of any age group according to CDC data, but in the past 14 days, they’ve made up nearly 20% of all vaccinations.

Vaccines are the first step of Cook Children’s plan to keep kids safe this year.

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“Everybody in the hospital is trying to keep their morale,” Mazade said. “We all know that this third wave of the pandemic was completely avoidable.”

The Pfizer vaccine, authorized for children down to the age of 12, is widely available, and the city of Fort Worth scheduled a series of vaccination clinics leading up to the start of the new school year.

“It’d be nice not to have to worry about COVID, or if I do get COVID, it’s not that big of a deal,” Matthew Davis, a 12-year-old getting vaccinated Monday, said.

“I’m going in person, so my mom wanted to keep me safe,” Dennise Perales, another 12-year-old said. “As long as you don’t get sick, you’re able to keep your family safe.”

Cook Children’s guidance recommends masks for all students along with quarantining exposed children. TEA’s guidance for schools doesn’t require quarantining. TEA did not respond to a request to answer which medical experts it consulted for its policies.

RELATED: As thousands head back to school this week, will kids feel comfortable putting masks on?

Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order blocking districts from requiring masks.

“If it's in conflict with what the TEA has put out now, it's not for lack of them being informed by us,” Mazade said of the hospital’s guidance. 

Dallas ISD will require masks in schools, and Houston ISD is set to vote on whether to do the same later this week.

Mazade says a safe school year could rely on upperclassmen setting an example with masks and distancing.

“They're going to have to model the socially responsible things that need to be done,” he said. “Adults aren't showing as much leadership as they should.”

The timeline for 5-11-year-old children to be vaccinated against COVID-19 remains a moving target, though vaccine researchers and health officials have said late fall to early winter is possible.

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