AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As Texas students head back to the classroom after the holidays the state is grappling with its fasting-growing COVID-19 surge to date, giving pediatricians more concern about unvaccinated children.
The state’s largest pediatric hospital, Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, said in a Monday press conference that 90% of its children hospitalized had the omicron variant of the coronavirus. One-third of those children are under the age of five, a group still not authorized to get vaccinated.
Dr. Jim Versalovic, Texas Children’s pathologist-in-chief said this emphasizes the need for adults to get vaccinated.
“Unfortunately those children still do not have access to vaccines,” Versalovic said, in regards to kids under the age of five. “There’s no question that omicron is making an impact on the youngest of children.”
Cases of COVID-19 have been surging nationwide. The omicron variant so far has been generally viewed as less severe and deadly than the earlier delta variant, but much more transmissible. The first omicron case was detected in Texas at the beginning of December.
On Christmas Day of 2021, 93 children in Texas were hospitalized with COVID-19. That number has since increased by 200% with 279 kids hospitalized as of Sunday.
Texas Children’s reported 70 pediatric patients are currently hospitalized with COVID. A week ago it had 30 young COVID patients. The week before that, they had 15.
“Time is of the essence…it’s a race between the vaccines and the variants,” Versalovic said.
These trends are causing some local leaders to demand for more mitigation measures like mask mandates. The state prohibits all entities from requiring masks and COVID-19 vaccinations, although there are several lawsuits for and against such requirements pending in the courts.
On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Department of State Health Services asked the federal government for assistance with testing, treatment and staffing amid this surge. Since reopening the state, the Republican governor has maintained a “personal responsibility” approach to mitigation policies.
Texas requested additional testing sites based on current COVID-19 metrics, according to a release from the governor’s office. The locations for the requested sites are Bexar, Cameron, Dallas, Harris, Hidalgo and Tarrant counties.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said he appreciates the request for assistance but it falls short of measures he believes are necessary.
“There’s a real need for grit and courage and leadership right now at the state level, and we’re not getting it,” Jenkins said. “The governor knows the vaccine works. That’s why he wears a mask wherever he goes and he’s triple vaccinated.”
Jenkins said there is a lot of frustration and anxiety amongst educators for not having the ability to mandate masks in schools. But Dallas ISD is one of several districts defying the state’s rules and requiring them for faculty and students anyway.
“If you are a school superintendent, it’s never been harder to do your job. And I appreciate that job,” he said. “But as you can see from our districts here in Dallas, it’s possible to put masks on kids. Kids are pretty compliant about wearing them.”
Other education advocates like Mark Wiggins of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, are continuing to advocate for local control in light of the omicron’s high transmissibility.
“Each district should be freed up to be able to make the decisions to keep its students and employees safe, based on the conditions that it is seeing,” Wiggins said.