Most children in the intensive care unit with COVID-19 had underlying conditions

Healthy young children in New York can be spared the worst at Omicron.

The majority of children hospitalized in recent weeks with severe cases of COVID-19 at a major children’s center in New York City had underlying conditions or were teenagers, a doctor told The Post.

Most of the younger children admitted to Northwell Health’s pediatric intensive care unit amid a wave of Omicron were immunosuppressed, had cancer or other pre-existing problems, Drs. Matthew Harris, who specializes in pediatric emergency medicine.

“The majority of the children we see in the intensive care unit already had pre-existing health conditions or are young with symptoms just like adults,” he said. “We see very few young children under the age of 5 and infants in the intensive care unit. Their cases are predominantly milder.”

In New York, the number of hospitalizations of children doubled this week – but the state has not yet provided meaningful details about the age group, including the percentage of children who had health problems before they became infected.

Overall, Harris said about one-third to one-half of all children admitted with COVID-19 had underlying health conditions.

He said the hospital was hit by “a wave of diagnoses” among children who often came in to be treated for reasons other than COVID-19, he said.

“A week and a half ago, 2-3 kids came in with COVID a day, and now we have close to 30,” he said. “Not all of them are there primarily for COVID – they can come in for a broken leg – and test positive for COVID while they’re here.”

He added: “The vast majority of those who test positive go home.”

Most cases are children under the age of 5, and the children hardest hit were unvaccinated or immunocompromised, he said.


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Dr. Mitch Katz, head of the city’s public hospital system Health + Hospitals, reiterated this observation at a news conference with Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday.

“Most of the children who come in are either under 5 years old and not eligible for vaccination, they are healthy children with fever, or they are over five and unvaccinated, and they come in with COVID-like symptoms, or they come in with other things and to be tested on the way in, ”said Katz.

The majority of children hospitalized in recent weeks with severe cases of COVID-19 at a major children's center in New York City had underlying conditions or were teenagers, a doctor told The Post.
Dr. Harris said most cases of young children have been mild.
RICARDO ARDUENGO / AFP via Getty Images

“We see the children recover … in general we do not see children doing badly, we see children who need treatment from several days and are eventually released.”

Across the country, COVID-19 admissions for children ranged from 70 to 184 this week, with 109 cases in New York City, according to state data.

Other cities may do differently. Dr. Paul Offit, an infectious disease expert at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said Thursday that two-thirds of children hospitalized with COVID-19 had underlying conditions.

“They’re struggling to breathe, coughing, coughing, coughing,” Offit said. “A handful were sent to the intensive care unit to be anesthetized. We put the attachment down the throat of those attached to a ventilator and the parents were crying.”

“It’s just so heartbreaking,” he said.

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