A.growing number of New Jersey children are testing positive for COVID-19, and some are getting sick and being hospitalized.

According to Dr. Meg Fisher, a pediatric infectious disease expert and a special adviser to state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, as the omicron variant has started spreading the increase in positive COVID cases in kids has been dramatic.

The numbers shoot higher

She said earlier this fall about 2,000 kids a week were being tested for COVID in New Jersey but last week that number had risen to 18,000.

In September, about 7% of children in New Jersey who were tested for COVID were positive for the virus, but by last week about 45% of all kids tested were positive.

Sick child
Mario Villafuerte, Getty Images

“The numbers are clearly increasing and the number of children who are sick enough to be hospitalized has definitely increased,” she said.

At the beginning of December, there were 11 children in the hospital with COVID or under investigation for the virus, but by the end of last week, that number had grown to 87.

She noted some of these kids were in the hospital for other problems like broken bones and had tested positive for the virus coincidentally, but about 40 children were being treated specifically for COVID symptoms.

Blame it on omicron

She said the reason so many kids are testing positive and more are becoming ill is the omicron variant.

“We don’t think it makes children sicker, but we know for sure it is much more highly transmissible. We also know our community numbers are going way up,” she said.

She pointed out kids have been home on winter break from school for the past few weeks, so they have been out in the community more than usual and been exposed to more adults in different situations, which has helped to drive the number of positive cases higher.

She said another factor that comes into play is children are less vaccinated than adults, so they are more prone to become infected.

There are about 760,000 children between the ages of 5 and 11 in New Jersey, and only 27% have received at least one dose of vaccine.

But the virus is still potentially dangerous

She said it’s important to remember kids who get the virus may also wind up with “long COVID, where you have symptoms for weeks to months after you recover, and we know there is this multisystem inflammatory disease in children.”

There have been 155 cases of MIS-C. While several children have been treated in the ICU, none have died from the disease.

Children with underlying conditions such as cancer and lung or heart problems are also more vulnerable.

There have been a thousand COVID deaths in children across the country since the pandemic began, including eight in New Jersey — a low number when compared to adult casualties but it is still one of the top 5 causes of death in childhood.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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