Pediatric COVID-19 surges in NY, new booster mandate for health care workers

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NEW YORK (WABC) -- New York officials expressed concern Friday about the rising number of pediatric COVID cases across the state, with those among children under age 5 -- for whom no vaccine has been approved -- rising eight-fold, according to Dr. Mary Bassett, the state's health commissioner.

The number of children hospitalized increased by 70 to 571 over the course of a recent week, with many of them unvaccinated.

"It's the rate of increase rather than the number that have made us very concerned about these children," Dr. Bassett said.

More than half of the children in hospitals are not yet eligible for the vaccine, while 91% of 5- to 11-year-olds being treated are unvaccinated.

"Those children who are hospitalized do not have to be scared, frightened, lying in a hospital bed," Governor Kathy Hochul said. "They don't have to be there. There is an answer. It's simple. It's been allowed for weeks.'

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Hochul also announced that health care workers in New York state must get a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot within two weeks of when they are eligible, with no exemptions or testing option.

"We need to make sure our health care workers are now boosted, not just vaccinated, but they have to be boosted," she said. "You would want to make sure that anyone taking care of you is fully protected, but also we've seen hospitals and health care facilities stressed because people who maybe only have the vaccination and not boosted are having breakthroughs. This is a phenomenon of omicron. It's a common-sense way of staying safe. People should get booster shot within two weeks of eligibility."

Visitors to nursing homes must have a negative test within 24 hours of arrival and must wear at least a "surgical" type mask.

State officials believe visitors to nursing homes are behind the increase in positive cases.

"The last thing we want is to create a situation where visitors are coming in and now getting people that they love or their neighbors in the next room sick," Hochul said. "We are starting to see an increase in cases in our nursing homes...Now we are now making sure that when visitors come in, they have to be wearing a better mask, a surgical type mask, and they have to have a negative COVID test within 24 hours."

Tests will be available if needed, but Hochul hopes visitors test before they leave.

"We prefer they do it at home, bring the results and show us, or do it in the parking lot and show us, but also we will provide the tests," she said. "We don't want to overtax the workers in the nursing home, but we will make sure that every nursing home has the supply they need to make sure visitors are tested and not positive when they walk in the door to go possibly expose an entire facility. This will spread like wildfire. It is starting to in some places. We are getting a real clear view of what is going on. We believe the visitors are a point of vulnerability for us. Workers, patients vaccinated, that's great. Ideally every visitor would be vaccinated and boosted but we don't have the authority to create that net restriction."

Officials said 77% of residents and employees in nursing homes in the state are fully vaccinated, higher than the 60% nationwide average.

Hochul said there is "a slight peaking" in cases, with 82,094 positive cases reported Friday, but she said she is "cautiously optimistic" because "it is not the straight up and down like an arrow like it was before."

"You may look at that trend and see there is a slight peaking," she said. "We are not going to make any pronouncements other than that is a better trend line than we had seen up until now. We are hoping for a plateau. We've had an enormous number of tests, record number of tests, 37,000 tests in one day. There was a time that could be a weekly total. You've heard me describe a military operation to get out tests."

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She said 11,548 people remain hospitalized statewide, and 155 people died in the last 24 hours.

"It's still a number that is very high," she said. "Let's talk about this hospital capacity number and what that really means. You see the trends heading upwards, but this is usually a lagging indicator. This follows the upward number of cases...Hospitalizations should start seeing the beginnings of a plateau. I'm not declaring an official plateau, but a plateauing from where it had been before."

Roughly half of the patients currently in New York City hospitals who are positive for COVID-19 were initially admitted for non-COVID reasons, Hochul said.

Statewide, about 42% of patients who are positive for the virus were admitted for separate reasons, and in some parts of the state, the number is only 21%.

The data represent the first time New York has differentiated between patients who go to hospitals to get care for COVID-19 and those who seek out care for other issues but test positive upon arrival.

Hochul also urged people to stop going to emergency rooms to get tested or to be treated with mild symptoms -- a trend she said is exhausting already-depleted hospital staffs.

"If you're an adult with very minor symptoms, you can handle a runny nose," she said. "You can handle the throats being a little sore, a little bit of a cough. Just treat as if you would the flu, all the protocols. But please don't overburden our emergency rooms."

Hochul said that the state is working to send more rapid tests to hospitals so they can administer them in the parking lot rather than admit people with mild symptoms to the emergency room.

The number of patients hospitalized with the virus in New York-Presbyterian hospitals, a network of facilities in the New York City area, is up roughly 20% from this time last year. However, the number of those requiring ICU beds or ventilators is "much less," said Dr. Steven Corwin, the system's CEO. The patients in the ICU "are older, sicker, and mainly unvaccinated," he added.

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