Afternoons with Grammy. Birthday parties. Meet other toddlers in the park. Parents of children who are too young to be vaccinated face difficult choices, as an omicron variant-driven increase in COVID-19 cases makes any encounter seem risky.
For Maine business owner Erin Connolly, the most groundbreaking decision involves Madeleine, her 3-year-old daughter and Connolly’s mother caring for the girl one day a week she is not in kindergarten.
It’s a treasured time to make cookies, go to the library, or just hang out. But the lively little girl resists wearing a mask, and with the highly contagious variant spreading at a furious pace, Connolly says she wonders how long it can continue, “and when it feels too insecure.”
Connolly from West Bath said she cares less about Madeleine and her 6-year-old vaccinated son getting the virus than about the impact, illness and separation it would have on grandparents. But she is also worried that her vaccinated parents will get breakthrough cases.
Although health experts say omicron appears to cause less serious illness and lead to fewer hospital admissions, its rapid spread indicates that it is much more contagious than other variants. Nearly 718,000 COVID cases were reported Tuesday, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Omicron is currently the culprit in more than 90% of U.S. cases, a staggering increase from less than 10% two weeks ago.
“The large amount of infections due to its deep transmissibility will mean that many more children will be infected,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci on Wednesday at a White House briefing.
COVID cases in American children and teens have nearly doubled in the last two weeks of December, a total of nearly 326,000 in the last week alone, according to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association.
The omicron-driven increase has also brought children to the hospital in record numbers: During the week from 27 December 2021 to 2 January 2022, an average of 672 children aged 17 and under were admitted daily to coronavirus hospitals. More than double the number from the previous week. However, children still make up a small percentage of those admitted.
Fauci, the country’s best infectious disease doctor, said surrounding children with vaccinated adults are a way to prevent them from getting the virus. Health authorities also reiterate that face masks prevent transmissions, and putting them on children 2 years and older in public and group settings can help keep them safe.
Connolly, 39, and her mother had a difficult conversation Tuesday morning about the dilemma.
“Will Madeleine be masked?” asked her mother. “I said, ‘We try, but I do not know if she will,’ Connolly recalled.” I said, “Does that mean Thursdays with the Grammys disappear? She said, ‘I’m not sure yet,’ ‘Connolly said, and suffocated tears.
Parents who had hoped the new year could bring a COVID vaccine to young children suffered a setback when Pfizer announced last month that two doses did not provide as much protection as hoped for young people aged 2 to 4 years. .
Researchers were disappointed with the setback, but are working to restart studies with a third vaccine dose, said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, Head of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stanford University Medical School. Maldonado leads the university’s Pfizer vaccine studies in children under 12 years of age.
Maldonado said she understands the frustration of parents with young children, but advises them to avoid unnecessary travel during this current rise and make sure their day care centers, kindergartens and other care providers need masks and take other recommended precautions.
When he sees the spread of omicrons, Honolulu resident Jacob Aki is considering giving up a first birthday party for his 10-month-old son. Celebrating the milestone is important in his native Hawaiian culture. The tradition dates back to a time before the measles vaccine was available, when it was a feat to reach one’s first birthday. The family also canceled plans to experience snow in Canada. Meanwhile, every cough and snuff provokes anxiety.
“Babies usually get sick at this age,” Aki said. “But with everything with COVID … anxiety is high.”
Heather Cimellaro, a technology teacher from Auburn, Maine, says she’s more concerned than ever about keeping her 3-year-old identical twins healthy. There have been medical issues related to their premature birth, and the family regularly goes to Boston to see a specialist.
“COVID can really throw a wrench into these plans,” Cimellaro said.
Cimellaro, 33, says omicron has its new thinking to run errands with the twins, visits to the library’s history, even preschool, located in a health center for the elderly. She worries that the boys may catch COVID and spread it to their “grandparents”.
“It’s just a lot of worry: ‘Am I doing the right thing?’ ” She said.” That’s the case. I’m not an epidemiologist. I do not know how dangerous it is for them. So it’s a bit like the one debating with myself. ”
Erin Stanley of Berrien Springs, Michigan, said she and her husband have narrowed their social lives because of omicron to help protect their 3-year-old son, Ralph. They are both vaccinated and boosted, but they worry that Ralph will get sick and spread the disease to his younger cousin, preschool classmates, grandparents and a beloved great-grandmother.
They did not see the great-grandmother over Christmas and also skipped a holiday get-together with other relatives.
“It was outrageous,” Stanley said. “We all really wanted to. It just seemed risky.”
Stanley, 35, a chef at a popular organic farm, used to take Ralph shopping, a trip he looked forward to, and which represented one of his few social interactions outside of kindergarten. But few shoppers wear masks, she said, and now it also seems too risky.
The shy little boy has had three scares recently and three negative COVID tests.
“Getting the swab was really traumatic for him,” said Stanley, who added that “viruses” and “grafting” are now part of his vocabulary.
“He keeps saying, ‘I do not want a cotton swab!'” She said. “If a vaccine comes to him, we’ll definitely get it.”
Associated Press writer Jennifer Sinco Kelleher of Honolulu contributed to this report.
Follow AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner at @LindseyTanner.
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