A concerning number of Hispanic children need ICU care after COVID-19 infection, doctors say

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — It didn’t take long for Michelle Cohen to decide that her kids were going to stick with virtual learning for the rest of the year. 

“My daughter has some pre-existing conditions that I’m afraid for her. My son has asthma. So, I don’t want to expose them,” Cohen explained. 

Michelle Cohen distributes free masks and flyers in Spanish to communities hit by the virus. (Courtesy Michelle Cohen)

The mom of three has been tracking COVID-19 numbers every day in Kyle and sharing them on social media. 

“As I was watching the data, I could see the impacts it was having on the Hispanic community,” Cohen explained.

Cohen said she’s been working with city leaders and pushing for more outreach in neighborhoods like hers on the east side of town where it’s predominately Spanish-speaking.  

She said she even goes to COVID testing locations and helps distribute masks and flyers in Spanish which provide information about the virus. 

“When I talk to them… this is how it’s transmitted, go get a test, go get checked. Don’t suffer in silence,” Cohen said “Don’t be afraid of going to the hospital that’s my big message.” 

Cohen said she’s also trying to reach parents and help them understand the seriousness of the virus.

Outreach on wheels 

Doctors at Dell Children’s Medical Center said out of all the children admitted for COVID-19, 10% have required ICU care and a majority are Hispanic. 

“Whether it’s because COVID is more common in that community… or whether it’s something about those communities and their immune response or all of the above, I think those are questions that we have to figure out,” explained Dr. Sarmistha Hauger, Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Dell Children’s Medical Center. 

Dell Children’s mobile clinic Children’s Health Express travels to communities to provide care and spread prevention tips about COVID-19. (Courtesy Dr. Kimberly Avila Edwards)

Dr. Hauger said outreach is critical especially as many students go from virtual learning to in-person. She explained that Children’s Health Express which is Dell Children’s mobile clinic has been instrumental in spreading the message of prevention in communities that are seeing higher cases. 

“I think minorities are disproportionally overrepresented in essential service industries that require travel and face to face interactions. So, the privilege of teleworking or sheltering in place may not be feasible for a number of our families,” Dr. Kimberly Avila Edwards, Medical Director of Children’s Health Express explained.

“Some of these racial and ethnic minority groups have a higher reliance on public transportation and are more likely to live in multigenerational homes. So, I think that all comes together and compounds the issue,” she said.

The mobile clinic travels to communities with little access to healthcare. The team not only provides care, but has also been raising awareness about the virus. 

“Please wash your hands, teach your child to wear their mask, and… keep socially distanced. Most importantly, if you feel your child looks ill or their running a low-grade fever keep them home and call your physician. Don’t delay care,” Dr. Avila Edwards emphasized. 

Dr. Avila Edwards and her team are working with other organizations to raise awareness about COVID-19 among Hispanic community. (Courtesy Dr. Avila Edwards)

She said education is key especially because diabetes and obesity are more prevalent in the Hispanic community which increase risks of the virus. 

Dr. Avila Edwards pointed out that another message to parents is going to well child checks and making sure their everyone is up to date on all vaccines including the flu shot. 

“We’ve mitigated risk factors for you, your child and our staff,” said Dr. Avila Edwards. “We wear the appropriate protective equipment.”

COVID-19 link to mystery syndrome 

As doctors work to learn more they said that some children, not just Hispanic, are also getting diagnosed with a mystery syndrome that strikes after a COVID-19 infection.

Dr. Hauger said children with Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children or MIS-C are showing symptoms 2 to 6 weeks after exposure to the virus. 

Dell Children’s has now treated seventeen children with the syndrome. Dr. Hauger said the average age of the children is around 7 or 8 years.

“What we don’t know is why children are presenting with this syndrome when they’re not so ill with the acute infection,” Dr. Hauger explained. 

She said symptoms to pay attention to after a COVID-19 infection include, prolonged fever, diarrhea and abdominal pain, rash and gland swelling. Dr. Hauger said children they’ve treated have had very little respiratory symptoms, but they are seeing children with heart concerns. 

“Many of these children become pretty ill – pretty rapidly, with their heart being a bit inflamed and not being able to keep up with their blood pressure,” Dr. Hauger said. “So, we have to watch that very closely, and why does that happen? So, we don’t know that part of it – so we need to study that.”

Dr. Hauger pointed out that after the children are released from the hospital, they are monitored with heart tests every two weeks and that data will be analyzed once gathered. 

Need for more education 

Cohen worries about those complications for her children. She works for the state has been able to do so virtually, but isn’t sure how long that will last. 

In the meantime, she’s talking with city leaders in Kyle about starting a Latino Coalition so there can be more outreach in Spanish-speaking communities. 

She said there needs to be testing for vulnerable communities, free personal protective equipment for families having to work and more education. 

“My goal is just to inform, educate and help as many people as possible,” said Cohen. 

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