JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – During a town hall discussion Wednesday night, the chief pediatric critical care services at Wolfson Children’s Hospital made a heartbreaking announcement, saying that in the previous 24 hours two children at the hospital had died of COVID-19 complications -- one as young as 2 weeks old.
Dr. Michael Gayle did not say how long the children who died had been hospitalized. He also did not indicate the age of the second child.
“Yes, children will get less problems with COVID, but they do get severe conditions, and we will see more and more of those in the intensive care unit,” Gayle said during the webinar Wednesday night hosted by Pastor John Newman of the Sanctuary at Mount Calvary Church.
Gayle, who is also chief of pediatric critical care services for UF Health, said during the recent surge ignited by the delta variant, double the number of children have been hospitalized.
“As I speak to you today, we are averaging about five to six children in intensive care with respiratory failure, kidney failure, and also we have seen some more PMIC,” Gayle said.
Wolfson issued a statement Thursday about the pediatric deaths:
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wolfson Children’s Hospital has confirmed a total of seven patient deaths. Four of the seven occurred since the start of the latest surge in the greater Jacksonville area that began in late June. Ages for the patients who passed ranged from infancy to late adolescence.
Due to patient privacy laws, we are unable to comment on any specific case.
Our hearts go out to the families who have lost children due to COVID-19. Wolfson Children’s and our caregivers grieve along with them.
We urge parents and other caregivers to take precautions to protect themselves and their children from COVID-19. That includes getting themselves and children ages 12+ vaccinated, and taking CDC-recommended precautions.
News4Jax learned in August that a 16-year-old had died of COVID at the hospital.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Mohammed Reza said as a father of three children who are too young to be vaccinated, the news of the deaths is concerning.
“It’s nauseating because they’re not protected yet,” Reza said of his own children. “If you look at the natural course of this disease, it’s tricky, and I keep saying that because if I get infected today, if a child gets infected today, they may not have symptoms for the next two to 14 days.”
Gayle pointed out during the conversation Wednesday night that even children over the age to be vaccinated are ending up in the hospital.
“We have so many kids that will be 12 and they can be vaccinated, and they, unfortunately, have severe pneumonia, and in many cases, parents are against vaccination so definitely, I would like the audience to know that even though kids are getting COVID less percentage-wise, but with the increase in the kids going back to school. Some places that do not have mask mandates, many have been exposed to COVID, and we’re seeing more kids having severe organ failure,” Gayle said.
As of Tuesday, 230 children were in Florida hospitals with COVID, and 72 new pediatric patients were admitted Tuesday -- a record for the pandemic. As of Thursday, 19 children were hospitalized at Wolfson with COVID, with four in the ICU. Baptist Health reported eight children were admitted for COVID-19 at its hospitals on Wednesday.
The news of the two children’s deaths came as a surprise to many, including some area doctors.
Dr. Sunil Joshi, president of the Duval County Medical Society Foundation, said any death of a child is a cause for sadness, but especially one that is preventable.
“Whenever you hear about any pediatric deaths from any cause, it’s incredibly sad, but from a disease like this that we’ve been talking about for over a year and a half now and how preventable it can be if we do the right thing -- incredibly sad as a parent, but also frustrating as a health care provider,” Joshi said.
He pointed out during an interview on The Morning Show that the delta variant is spreading to younger people much faster than the original variant.
“It tends to target folks who are unvaccinated. Well, guess what, our kids under the age of 12 haven’t even had the opportunity to be vaccinated yet,” Joshi said. “And this is why we talked about forming this bubble around our children, having masks in school, having the rest of us vaccinated so that we can do what we can, protect the folks that can’t protect themselves right now, and I think it’s very very important for us all to understand that, that our children are going to continue to get sick unless we start to do some of the important things to mitigate the spread of this virus.”
The long-term effects of COVID are also a major concern. In adults, 30% of all people hospitalized will have long-term symptoms and doctors believe that is the same for children -- many will have problems breathing down the line.
The top doctors in Jacksonville who are working on the front lines fighting COVID-19 got together virtually during the town hall Wednesday to address the many issues surrounding the delta variant, especially the effect on the Black community. The conversation addressed the rising cases of COVID-19 in children, the confusion over COVID symptoms and fighting misinformation.
“This is an extremely important time in the African American community. Thirteen percent of the country, yet we wind up being 25% of the COVID deaths,” Newman said. “And so without question it is critical that our community be addressed as it relates to the COVID situation, particularly the delta variant.”
Dr. Tra’Chella Johnson Foy is with Baptist Health. She says she meets many patients who regret not getting vaccinated.
“I have a lot of criers now who are like, ‘I wish I had.’ And that’s what we want to avoid,” Johnson Foy said. “If you can do what you can do now, go ahead and get vaccinated now so we are not having the ‘I wish I had’ conversation for you or any of your loved ones.”
Tom Diamond II is a medical student who spoke at the town hall. He spoke about the harm not only of the virus, but misinformation being online.
“As a community, we are not only having to face the effects of COVID in the physical form, but we are also facing the misinformation on social media,” Diamond said. “We get our information so fast in our hands on our phones, and it’s hard for people who know the science, who know the correct information that can help patients to combat what’s happening on social media in real time to what’s actually happening in the real world.”
The doctors discussed how angry and frustrated they are knowing that many deaths caused by the delta variant are preventable.
Florida reported 19,048 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday -- the highest in four days, according to numbers posted Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Florida has had nearly 3.27 million COVID-19 cases since the pandemic started in early 2020.