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COVID cases involving kids rising in Fredericksburg area
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COVID cases involving kids rising in Fredericksburg area

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One local doctor says the warning signs are flashing about COVID-19 and its possible threat to children as pediatric wards and intensive care units in children’s hospitals “all across the South, including Virginia,” are seeing a significant surge in cases.

“Kids a few months old are sick,” said Dr. Richard Erwin with Mary Washington Pediatrics in Spotsylvania County. “Where severe COVID illness has been uncommon before delta, it’s critical that we recognize this delta strain is capable of causing severe illness in even healthy kids. All of this together has the pediatric community concerned at this time.”

In a video that was part of Mary Washington Healthcare’s Aug. 10 town hall and available on Facebook, Erwin cited statistics from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Nationwide, almost 72,000 children and teens became infected with COVID-19 the last week of July, which is “about five times as many kids who were sick at the end of June,” Erwin said.

Cases among local children, adolescents and teens grew faster in the past 11 days than any other age group, according to Virginia Department of Health data.

From Aug. 5 to Monday, 215 young people became infected with the virus in the Rappahannock Area Health District. That includes Fredericksburg and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford. Of that total, 76 are ages 9 and under and 139 are ages 10-19.

No local children have been hospitalized, according to reports from the last 11 days, but those being treated for the virus are considerably younger than during the first 10 months of the pandemic, when the virus hit the older set so hard.

Dr. Richard Erwin, a Spotsylvania pediatrician, discusses the concern of rising case counts of kids with COVID.

Currently, the biggest increase is among patients in their 30s, said Dr. Christopher Newman, chief medical officer of Mary Washington Healthcare.

“We’re seeing fewer older individuals admitted because they had a very good vaccination rate in our community,” Newman said.

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Locally, 82.5 percent of people age 65-plus have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the RAHD. By comparison, those ages 25-34 have the second lowest vaccination rate in the local health district.

To date, 22,630 residents or 45.4 percent of that age group has gotten at least one shot, according to the state. Ages 12-15 have the lowest vaccination rate at 40 percent.

By comparison, more than 85 percent of people at the opposite end of the spectrum, ages 74-84, have been vaccinated, according to the state.

In his comments, Erwin stressed that the pediatric community wants children in school, but “it is imperative that we do so safely.” His No. 1 recommendation for parents and caregivers, teachers and anyone age 12 and over is to get the vaccine because it “provides a protective cocoon around those not able to get vaccinated.”

He said parents shouldn’t be afraid to talk to anyone interacting with their children about their vaccination status. Parents also can “ask kindly” that those who aren’t vaccinated wear a mask and get tested.

In terms of reducing the spread, Erwin advocated guidelines that have been in place since the pandemic began: frequent handwashing, coughing in your elbow and keeping physical distance.

Regarding masks, he said the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that everyone over age 2 wear masks in school regardless of their vaccination status.

“Go ahead and get them a mask with their favorite superhero,” Erwin said.

As for pushback from the community when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its stance earlier this month to recommend that even the vaccinated wear masks inside public buildings in areas with high infection rates, Dr. Mike McDermott, CEO of Mary Washington Healthcare, had an analogy for that.

Throughout the pandemic, he’s been known to use them to make a point. At last week’s town hall, he compared the prevalence of COVID-19 to the rain and a mask to an umbrella.

“When it’s raining out, you use an umbrella to protect yourself,” he said. “When it stops, you put it away. When there’s not a lot of COVID around, you take the mask off. That’s what we saw the end of June. It is raining again, time to put umbrellas back up to protect ourselves and lower the spread of the coronavirus. Nobody should be surprised by that.”

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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