OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma students are heading back to classrooms across the state, health experts say they are concerned about unvaccinated students gathering together as the delta variant continues to spread across the state.
Dr. Dale Bratzler, Chief COVID Officer with the University of Oklahoma, says hospitals are being stretched thin as more and more patients head to the emergency room for COVID-19 symptoms.
Already, hospitals say they have had to send patients to other states due to a limited number of beds.
Dr. David Kendrick, founder and CEO of MyHealth Access Network, says as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise, health experts are paying close attention to the age demographic of patients.
Unlike last year, Kendrick says this latest wave is impacting younger patients.
At this point, he says there has been a rise in the number of school-aged and preschool-aged kids who are testing positive for COVID-19.
Also, doctors say younger patients are also experiencing long-term side effects of the virus.
Throughout the pandemic, doctors have been studying COVID-19 long-haulers, or patients who experience symptoms months after recovering from the virus.
Now, it seems that they are encountering children who are experiencing the phenomenon.
“We’re starting to see some long haul symptoms in our younger population,” said Dr. Mary Clarke, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association.
During a recent townhall meeting with the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Clarke says that about a third of physicians in the room had taken care of a pediatric patient with long-haul symptoms.
“About one-third of pediatric patients had one or two lingering symptoms for more than four months after having infection, and another quarter, another 25%, had three or more symptoms longer than four months,” said Dr. Clarke.
Those symptoms can include fogginess, insomnia, mood disorders, muscle aches, headaches, and fatigue.
It is unwelcome news as more than 700,000 Oklahoma students prepare to head back to class.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said that while the COVID-19 vaccine has been proven to be very effective, there are around 645,000 Oklahoma students who are not vaccinated against the virus.
Since the vaccine isn’t approved for children under the age of 12, Hofmeister and local health experts say they encourage everyone to take precautions in order to protect the safety and health of young children.
“We have children who go to school with peanut allergies and we change the way we behave in that class. We have to be looking at what is best for the children in our classrooms and parents and teachers need to work together on this,” said Hofmeister.
Hofmeister says she is encouraging Oklahomans to get vaccinated against COVID-19, to wear masks, and to encourage their children to wear masks while in the classroom.
If that doesn’t happen, she says she is concerned that those actions could severely impact children’s health and education.
“We are on the cusp of something that could be extremely costly for our children,” said Hofmeister.
When it comes to quarantining after potential exposure to COVID-19, Hofmeister says they are seeing a mixed reaction from districts across the state.
“We’re hearing some districts say, ‘We’re not doing any quarantining, and no one is making us.’ And others are saying, ‘If you as a parent want your child out, we will excuse your absence if they’ve been exposed.’ This causes concern for me when we think about potential spread, particularly with asymptomatic students in an unvaccinated population,” she said.
In the meantime, officials stress that you can do your part by getting vaccinated and taking precautions.
“The best way to protect our children who cannot be vaccinated is to vaccinate ourselves. It is our responsibility as adults, parents, teachers, physicians, nursing staff, hospitals, businesses. It is our responsibility to protect the vulnerable patients in our groups and that is, right now, children under the age of 12 who cannot be vaccinated. They are still in this fight but they have no way to protect themselves,” said Dr. Clarke.