As pediatric COVID cases rise, more kids in DC area getting respiratory infections

There’s an increased number of respiratory illnesses among children in the D.C. region, according to a pediatric emergency medicine doctor who said they include common ailments in addition to COVID-19.

“Respiratory illnesses includes anything from a simple cough and cold, all the way up through very severe pneumonia or bad cases of COVID, which I’m sure is on people’s mind,” said Dr. Sarah Combs, pediatric emergency medicine attending and Director of Outreach for the emergency room at Children’s National Hospital.

Detailing numbers of cases specific to Children’s National, Combs said 14 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Aug. 17.

“Now, that may not sound like a large number, and definitely in comparison to adult populations, it’s not a big number, but you want to put that in context — that when we were in our peak of COVID here in D.C. back in late 2020 and going into 2021, our peak number was 18 hospitalized COVID patients,” she said.

“So we definitely seem to be rapidly getting up back toward that peak number, seeing higher numbers of COVID cases coming into the hospital and also COVID cases that are, luckily, well enough to go home, but are getting positive PCR tests, and having to go home and quarantine.”

During the first three weeks of July, Children’s National saw some 300 cases of bronchiolitis,  which is inflammation and infection of the small airways in young children. Combs called that “unprecedented” because it’s typically a winter ailment. During last winter’s lockdown, Combs said there were no cases.


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“Basically, what’s happening is kids are getting all sorts of viruses; their immune systems haven’t been used to seeing these viruses over the past year because of some of the regulations we’ve had in place with COVID. And so they’re getting the viruses, they’re being a little harder hit. They’re getting a bit sicker, possibly even needing to come into the hospital,” Combs said.

Combs added that it’s leading to a regionwide increase in the numbers of young and school-aged children needing treatment and possibly even needing hospitalizations for breathing complaints.

In Northern Virginia, the Inova L.J. Murphy Children’s Hospital is noticing changes in numbers of kids seeking care.

“Overall, we have seen intermittent increases in volumes in our pediatric emergency department. Capacity issues have been minor and manageable so far,” spokesman Curt McCormick said.

“With the new school year beginning in Virginia on Monday, Inova strongly urges anyone who is eligible to get vaccinated, to wear masks in accordance with CDC guidelines, to practice safe social distancing and to always observe good hand-washing hygiene,” he said.

Combs stressed that anyone who isn’t feeling well should stay home.

“If you aren’t feeling well, if your child isn’t feeling well, please do the responsible thing and keep them home from school that day because that’s going to best help us to not continue to spread viruses, if we’re making sure that sick kids are staying at home. And those who are in school, those who are interacting, can be as healthy as possible,” she said.

And, she urges parents not to overreact — most children do very well fighting off viruses.

“So, even if they do get sick, even if they come down with something, if they are just sniffling and having the occasional cough but otherwise they are happy and playful and drinking enough to keep hydrated and not breathing quickly or looking like they’re having trouble breathing, you can just go ahead and keep them at home, appropriately confine yourself and your family, but keep them at home and treat them there,” Combs advised.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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