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Tennessee Health Commissioner discusses how the Delta variant is affecting children’s hospitals

Dr. Lisa Piercey discussed the current COVID-19 climate in Tennessee pediatric hospitals.
Published: Aug. 6, 2021 at 1:35 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 6, 2021 at 5:42 PM EDT
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LIVE: Sam Luther breaks down how COVID is impacting children's hospitals

COVID cases in Tennessee kids have doubled from July 18 to the 25, according to the state’s health commissioner, who was appointed by Republican Governor Bill Lee. Dr. Piercey says the Delta variant is more transmissible but is not causing more severe illness in kids. https://bit.ly/3jvUjZt

Posted by WVLT on Friday, August 6, 2021

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey held a press conference with Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn Friday to speak on the Delta variant’s impact on pediatric hospitals and capacity.

“Pediatric hospitals don’t typically have capacity concerns,” Dr. Peircey said. Recently, things have changed, however.

“We are in a fourth surge,” said. Dr. Piercey. She wanted to make it clear that the Delta variant does not make kids sicker but it is more contagious than previous strains. This resurgence is causing capacity concerns among health officials, Dr. Peircey said.

“They were full, or nearing to be full, before Covid hit kids in early July, " Dr. Lisa Piercey said. “The extra burden of children being hospitalized with Covid is likely just enough to tip the scales in some instances.”

The Delta variant is as much as five times more infectious than the original strain of COVID-19, known as the Alpha strain, Dr. Peircey said. Those with the original strain could be expected to pass it along to one or two others, but those with the Delta variant could infect as many as five others, according to Piercey.

Officials with the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital have confirmed six patients in their hospital have COVID, but not all of them are being treated in the Intensive Care Unit.

The Delta variant is not the only thing causing capacity concerns, however. A recent unexpected spike in Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV, is also causing issues, Dr. Peircey said.

The workforce shortage that is affecting businesses and restaurants is also affecting pediatric hospitals, Dr. Peircey said. Piercy said some people make the mistake of thinking of children as small adults when they need different healthcare workers, different equipment and different medications.

“We don’t have as much flexibility to flex our staff and to pull in additional staffing and to pull all these extra levers like we did back in the winter when we had adult hospitals to fill up,” said Piercey.

East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville reports no capacity issues. Medical Director Dr. Joe Childs says the hospital is working to add more nurses but is “comfortable” with equipment on hand.

Dr, Peircey gave a few options for parents to protect their children as well. She recommended individuals consider the vaccine if they are eligible and parents ask their children to wear masks at school.

She wanted to make it clear that she doesn’t think its too late for people to get the vaccine. “We’re much better equipped now than we were in winter with the vaccines,” Dr. Peircey said.

Dr. Peircey did not voice explicit support for mask mandates in schools at the meeting, instead suggesting parents make the decision to require their child to mask up or not.

“We’re telling districts and parents, this is your choice,” said Piercey. “The spread is not the same everywhere, it’s hot and heavy in Shelby County and West Tennessee.”

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