U.S. sees rise in pediatric COVID patients as WHO warns of global ‘tsunami’ of cases

The World Health Organization is warning of a global "tsunami" of COVID cases as the omicron surge builds on the delta wave. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting a significant surge in U.S. pediatric hospital admissions in the last week, particularly in Illinois, Ohio, Florida, New Jersey and New York. Amna Nawaz reports.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, the World Health Organization is warning tonight of a global tsunami of COVID cases, as the Omicron surge builds on the Delta wave.

    Here at home, new infections have hit a pandemic high, and, today, the effects were increasingly evident.

    Long lines at testing centers nationwide, as COVID continues to swiftly spread across the country, and at least another 850 flights grounded globally today, as airlines still grapple with staffing shortages.

    New infections in the U.S. topped 267,000 yesterday, the highest recorded since the pandemic began. Cases rose 60 percent over last week, with Delta and Omicron driving the surge. The CDC previously estimated Omicron accounted for 73 percent of new cases in the U.S. since December 18, but yesterday revised that down to 23 percent.

    That percentage, officials warn, will rise substantially. And though hospitalizations and deaths remain low, the risk of illness and system overloads remains.

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Adviser to President Biden: All indications point to a lesser severity of Omicron vs. Delta. But we should not become complacent, since our hospital systems could still be stressed in certain areas of the country.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Today's news of record infections came just as the CDC issued new shorter quarantines and masking rules this week for COVID positives and exposures. Rules met with mixed reviews from Americans.

    Anne Wilder, Resident of Washington, D.C.: I'm feeling good about the new guidelines. It makes a lot of sense for the people who have taken those measures to protect themselves with multiple vaccinations and then a booster.

    Emoni Jones, Resident of Washington, D.C.: I don't feel comfortable with that at all. People can say they don't have symptoms, and it's, like, that's very variable.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    CDC Director Rochelle Walensky today defended the new rules.

  • Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC Director:

    Let me make clear that we are standing on the shoulders of two years of science, two years of understanding transmissibility, and more that we continue to learn every single day about Omicron.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    At officials' urging, roughly one million Americans are now getting a booster shot every day. But the World Health Organization's director general said today those boosters in rich countries continue to hurt poorer nations.

  • Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General:

    This virus will continue to evolve and threaten our health system if we don't improve the collective response. This is the time to rise above short-term nationalism and protect populations and economies against future variants by ending global vaccine inequity.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Failure to do so, he warned, will only prolong the pandemic.

    And the CDC is reporting a significant surge in pediatric hospital admissions in the last week, particularly in Illinois, Ohio, Florida, New Jersey, and New York. New York City alone reports 68 children hospitalized last week.

    Dr. Anthony (sic) Wiener is chief of the Pediatric Emergency Department and director of the Division of Pediatric Medicine at Hassenfeld Children's Hospital at NYU Langone Health.

    Dr. Wiener, welcome to the "NewsHour." Thank you for the time.

    So you have seen a big jump in New York in those pediatric admissions. I know you have spent time in that emergency department recently, so just tell us about what you are seeing there, what that surge looks like.

  • Dr. Ethan Wiener, NYU Langone Health:

    Sure, well, I mean, we are seeing a tremendous increase in volume in the emergency department, specifically amongst pediatric patients.

    As we just heard on the last segment, there were over 250,000 new cases in the United States yesterday. It is really all about the really tremendous increased community prevalence of disease, increased community burden, leading to a greater number of patients with medical conditions and presenting to the emergency department.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And, Dr. Wiener, what — tell me about the people that you have been admitting. Are they younger? Are they older, unvaccinated, vaccinated? What is the sort of demographic profile?

  • Dr. Ethan Wiener:

    Sure.

    Well, most of the serious conditions continue to revolve around respiratory conditions and complications. So that means that people are having difficulty breathing or shortness of breathe and require oxygen and other support.

    This is really true across multiple age groups within pediatrics, which is — which is actually really different than what we had been seeing in prior parts of the pandemic. And it's really having to do more than anything else with community burden, rather than with some severity of the strain itself.

    It's really across age groups. We're seeing very young children who obviously are too young to be vaccinated, but amongst the age groups that are eligible for vaccines, there's absolutely no question, and everybody is reporting this across every setting, is the patients who are getting seriously ill are unvaccinated.

    And it is extraordinarily rare for us to admit a patient at any age or for any reason related to COVID specifically who is vaccinated.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let me ask you about something Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a briefing. He said many children are hospitalized with COVID, as opposed to because of COVID.

    And it's an important distinction, but I want to get your take on it. Does that track with what you're seeing? And does that also tell you that Omicron is not as severe as Delta was among children?

  • Dr. Ethan Wiener:

    Well, for the first part, there is no question that, again, just based on the prevalence of the community or the burden, if you will, in the community of disease, that we are seeing, patients have a variety of conditions that also concurrently happen to be COVID-positive, so are certainly being hospitalized for conditions unrelated to COVID, but happen to have COVID at the same time.

    So there is no question that that is the case. Again, I also don't believe that, nor does the evidence demonstrate that Omicron is more dangerous or what we would call more virulent than other strains. This really just has to do with pure numbers. And with the vast — vastly greater numbers of pediatric patients that are contracting disease, we are seeing more patients who are then becoming ill from that disease.

    I will say also that the — all the measures that we discuss now for many months to prevent exposures and to prevent serious illness remain the same, so not only vaccination, but masks work. We know that. And whether it is in a school setting or otherwise, if you are indoors around other people — and, of course, kids aren't in school this week, but we're seeing the effects of prior weeks and all of the together with people over the holidays.

    The mask is really what makes the difference in terms of reducing community spread.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Doctor, I have got about 30 seconds left, but I have to put to you something we hear often, which is, we know vaccination rates for younger kids in particular, 5 to 11, are very low.

    A lot of parents will hear, well, it doesn't seem like Omicron is that severe. If my kid gets it, they won't get that sick. Why should I get them vaccinated?

    What would you say to them?

  • Dr. Ethan Wiener:

    Well again, we're seeing a tremendous increase in the number of kids who are getting sick, who are requiring hospitalizations.

    With more patients who come down with COVID, there are going to be more patient was get sick. We have had to talk about other conditions like myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart. Fortunately, that's a small minority of the patient who develop that complication, but it does speak to the notion that COVID is not benign in kids and it's not inconsequential. And we really need to be focused on preventative measures.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Dr. Ethan Wiener, chief of the Pediatric Emergency Department at Hassenfeld Children's Hospital at NYU Langone Health.

    Dr. Wiener, thank you so much for your time.

  • Dr. Ethan Wiener:

    Thank you for having me.

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