AUSTIN (KXAN) — Health leaders are painting a grim picture of the impacts the omicron variant has on children, saying more kids are showing up at Austin-area hospitals with COVID-19 than ever before.

Douglas Havron, the executive director for the Capital Area of Texas Regional Advisory Council (CATRAC), which largely oversees hospital operations in the Austin area, said during the peak of the delta surge they had a then-record high 36 children admitted to area hospitals. Friday, they were reporting 46 admissions.

Roughly 90% of kids admitted to pediatric hospitals were unvaccinated, which has “been the trend for the last several weeks,” explained Dr. Desmar Walkes, the Austin-Travis County health authority.

These numbers are what Saad Dardai and Sana Khan worry about. The first-time parents contracted COVID-19 in November 2020.

“It felt like, you know, common cold-type-flu for us but with that tinge of fear that we had no idea … what more it could be,” Dardai said.

A few days later, their then-one-year-old started showing the same symptoms, including loss of taste.

“I found her playing like with the hot sauce and she had like some around her mouth and she showed no reaction,” Khan recalled.

It’s an experience they don’t want to repeat. Both parents are fully vaccinated and boosted but are keeping their social lives scaled back until their two-year-old can get the same protection.

“Every time she shows any symptom, we’re concerned again,” Khan said. “We do kind of limit ourselves in what we can do and how much we go out and how much we expose her to that.”

The community transmission rate (CTR) in Central Texas is at a seven-day rolling average of 1,896 cases per 100,000. With that level of transmission, the CDC recommends schools cancel or hold sports and other extracurricular activities virtually to “protect in-person learning.”

Right now in Austin-Travis County, the health authority has ruled everyone on local school campuses and buses over the age of two is required to wear a mask during Stages 3 and up. Austin-Travis County is currently in Stage 5 COVID-19 risk-based guidelines.

“Child care programs are caring for our youngest community members who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated,” said Donna Sundstrom, Austin Public Health assistant director of community services. “Working families need our whole community to take the steps we know work to lower community transmission, so that child care programs can remain staffed and open, and parents can continue to work.” 

Schools in Central Texas have already been forced to close their doors in some cases as a result of staffing shortages and COVID-19 outbreaks. You can find the list of school closures here.

Who’s eligible?

Everyone ages five and older are eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine right now. Federal officials approved a child-sized vaccine for 5 to 11-year-old kids in November.

Still, APH reports only 26% of local kids in the 5-11 range have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“This is an important time to get their child vaccinated,” Cassandra DeLeon, APH’s chief administrative officer for disease prevention and health promotion, pleaded with parents Friday. She noted many parents locally had said they wanted to wait to see how the vaccine rollout went for kids.

‘We’ve now delivered millions of doses of vaccine to children in a safe way,” she said.

Anyone over the age of 12 is eligible to get a booster shot at least five months after their initial round of shots.

You can find a COVID-19 vaccine on Austin Public Health’s website here.