NEW YORK — At the start of the pandemic, the overall consensus was that older patients are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and children are not as affected. That conclusion is being tested by the highly infectious omicron variant.

What You Need To Know

  • COVID-19 hospitalizations in New York state have topped 5,550 for first time since late February

  • Five times as many children in New York City are being hospitalized with COVID-19

  • Health officials urge parents to get children 5-11 years old vaccinated against COVID-19

Health officials express concern that hospitalizations in the state have topped 5,550 for first time since late February and the number of children testing positive for COVID-19 has also shot up in recent days.

“Many people continue to think children do not become infected with COVID. This is not true children become infected and some will be hospitalized. The immunization coverage, vaccinations remain too low,” said New York State Department of Health Commissioner Mary Bassett.

The state’s health commissioner says children in the five boroughs are especially at risk of getting sick. While the number of pediatric hospital admissions have gone up slightly overall, in New York City, child hospitalizations are nearly five times higher now than they were at the start of December. Almost none of the children with severe symptoms were vaccinated, even though kids 5-11 are eligible to get the shot.

Dr. Ilana Stein is a pediatrician at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx. She says although children tend to do well when they have COVID, some do get very sick and require oxygen and a stay in the ICU. She also says children can have a rare auto immune response that can happen two to six weeks after they are infected.

"One of the best things to do is for everyone in the household to be vaccinated, especially for the kids who are younger than 5. It's called cocooning, so the more people in the home who are vaccinated, the less likely that the younger child is going to be able to catch it. And also modeling mask behavior, especially for the younger children,” said Stein.

Governor Kathy Hochul says the data is not meant to alarm parents, and so far no plan to shut down schools has been announced. But the governor says she is monitoring the situation closely.

“There’s not going to be one number. It’s going to be a combination of events, looking at hospitalizations, and the rate of spread,” Hochul said.

To do that, the state is rolling out 3.5 million COVID tests to its schools — two million of them to New York City, the nation's largest public district.

“We understand now the huge cost of having children’s education disrupted in terms of their socialization, their mental health as well as their progression educationally. So the goal is to keep children in school and to do it safely,” added Commissioner Bassett.