‘Increase in children being infected with the coronavirus in the community,’ Jacksonville doctor says

As omicron surges, local medical experts express concerns about children

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – While COVID-19 cases spike locally and across the nation, doctors worry about the youngest patients.

As more people look for public testing sites or over-the-counter, at-home tests, Dr. Sunil Joshi, the president of the Duval County Medical Society Foundation and an expert in allergy and immunology, says he’s concerned about children.

The omicron variant is said to be more contagious than the delta variant and seems to break through even fully vaccinated people. But children were the last to be eligible for vaccination.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, there’s a lot of discussion about this virus not being significant in children, and that may have been true with the original version of the virus, but that certainly is not the case with the delta variant and certainly is not what we are seeing recently,” Joshi said. “There’s a 52% increase in hospitalizations amongst children in the United States over the last month, about a 20% increase in adults, and there’s a doubled number of percent increase in children versus adults over the last four to six week. So children are getting significantly ill from this virus, requiring hospitalization, so any thought that this is a benign disease process in children is outdated information.”

Joshi, who will be on “This Week in Jacksonville” Sunday morning, and other medical leaders say vaccination is key to defeating the coronavirus and ending the pandemic.

“We do have vaccines available for those 5 to 12 years of age,” Joshi said. “Just encouraging parents to have their children vaccinated. And again, the children under the age of 5 have yet to be vaccinated either, so we do have another group of Americans we have to be concerned about as we go forward, but absolutely 100% of vaccine is the way out of this pandemic, even for our youngest people.”

While COVID-19 cases spike locally and across the nation, doctors worry about the youngest patients.

As of Wednesday, there were four children hospitalized with COVID-19 at Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville — one additional case from Tuesday. Those numbers are down from earlier this year, but that does not mean the highly contagious omicron variant isn’t spreading.

“We have not seen increases of omicron in the hospitals, but there is certainly an increase in children being infected with the coronavirus in the community. The doctor’s offices are full. We are getting lots of requests for test. Unfortunately, the testing is not as well in the community as it could be,” said Dr. Mobeen Rathore, an infectious disease specialist with Wolfson.

Rathore said the children now being admitted are not as sick as some during the delta surge. But he said they are prepared if it should get bad.

“We are ready for that, and we have learned a lot from delta, over the last two years,” Rathore said. “So I believe we are ready for any eventuality and we have the resources and the personnel to take care of any kids who do get admitted to the hospital.”

In addition to vaccinations, according to doctors, testing is key.

“We are seeing more testing of kids,” said Mia Jones of Agape Health, which runs two of the city testing sites. “I have not seen the number of kids coming through for vaccines that I had expected, but I know that the health department has worked with the school board and they were doing some vaccines at the various schools.”

News4JAX has compiled a list of COVID-19 testing, as well as vaccination, sites in Northeast Florida.

About the Authors:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.