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Expert Warns of Increase in Child Respiratory Infections, COVID-19 Hospitalizations

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University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics epidemiologist Melanie Wellington says she expects an increase in kids hospitalized with COVID-19 due to infection rates.

Iowa's largest hospital is reporting a significant uptick in children with respiratory viruses as more of  the state's children return to school.

Melanie Wellington, an associate hospital epidemiologist at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, said the hospital is currently seeing many kids with respiratory viruses are usually prevalent in winter months.

She said the relaxation of social distancing and mask wearing is the cause.

"Something I'm very unusual has happened, which is that as we sort of opened back up again, they started circulating," Wellington said.

"Now they normally are only in the winter. But this time, they came in July — sort of like Christmas in July. And so we've had a bunch of kids have tough infections with respiratory viruses from July through now."

Wellington said currently UIHC has just a handful of kids hospitalized for COVID-19, but she expects that to change as infection rates for children have rapidly increased.

Last week the state reported more than 20 percent of new COVID-19 infections were in children under 18.

"What we're doing right now is we're all having a lot of interactions. A lot of people are not using masks, aren’t distancing, that kind of thing. So we're having a lot more transmission," Wellington said. "And a lot of kids who weren't being exposed before are now being exposed. And because they can't be vaccinated, that leaves them as a very vulnerable population."

Currently, only people 12 or older are authorized by the FDA to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Wellington said children are still extremely unlike to become seriously ill from COVID-19, but she still expects UIHC's numbers go up in the next few weeks just from the amount of new infections.

"There's still enough kids out there getting infected right now that we are seeing some kids who need the hospital," she said.

She said symptoms usually takes about a week to week and a half into the infection for people to be sick enough to go to the hospital.

The state reported last week more than 500 Iowans are hospitalized with the virus, a rate unseen since last January.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 98 of Iowa's 99 counties have high levels of virus transmission, and one county — Audubon County — has substantial spread.