The number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 in the U.S. hit a record high on Aug. 14, with more than 1,900 in hospitals.
Hospitals across the South are running out of beds as the contagious Delta variant spreads, mostly among unvaccinated people. Children make up about 2.4% of the country’s COVID-19 hospitalizations, and those under 12 are particularly vulnerable since they’re not eligible to receive a vaccine.
“This is not last year’s COVID,” Sally Goza, MD, former president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told CNN on Aug. 14.
“This one is worse, and our children are the ones that are going to be affected by it the most,” she said.
The number of newly hospitalized COVID-19 patients for ages 18-49 also hit record highs during the week of Aug. 9. A fifth of the nation’s hospitalizations are in Florida, where the number of COVID-19 patients hit a record high of 16,100 on Aug. 14. More than 90% of the state’s intensive care unit beds are filled.
More than 90% of the ICU beds in Texas are full as well. On Aug. 13, there were no pediatric ICU beds available in Dallas or the 19 surrounding counties, which means that young patients would be transported father away for care – even Oklahoma City.
“That means if your child’s in a car wreck, if your child has a congenital heart defect or something and needs an ICU bed, or more likely, if they have COVID and need an ICU bed, we don’t have one,” Clay Jenkins, a Dallas County judge, said on Aug. 13.
“Your child will wait for another child to die,” he said.
As children return to classes, educators are talking about the possibility of vaccine mandates. The National Education Association announced its support of mandatory vaccination for its members.
“Our students under 12 can’t get vaccinated,” Becky Pringle, president of the association, told CNN.
“It’s our responsibility to keep them safe,” she said. “Keeping them safe means that everyone who can be vaccinated should be vaccinated.”
The U.S. now has an average of about 129,000 new COVID-19 cases per day, Reuters reported, which has doubled in about 2 weeks. The number of hospitalized patients is at a 6-month high, and about 600 people are dying each day.
Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oregon have reported record numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations.
In addition, eight states make up half of all the COVID-19 hospitalizations in the U.S. but only 24% of the nation’s population – Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, and Texas. These states have vaccination rates lower than the national average, and their COVID-19 patients account for at least 15% of their overall hospitalizations.
To address the surge in hospitalizations, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has ordered the deployment of up to 1,500 Oregon National Guard members to help health care workers.
“I know this is not the summer many of us envisioned,” Gov. Brown said Aug. 13. “The harsh and frustrating reality is that the Delta variant has changed everything. Delta is highly contagious, and we must take action now.”
A version of this article first appeared on WebMD.com.