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Pediatricians concerned about potential spike in viral diseases as students head back to school

Health officials said they are seeing a spike in pediatric ICU numbers just as some students are heading back to school.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — On Monday, Prisma Health officials announced a spike in hospitalizations within their Children's Hospital. Senior Medical Director for the Children's Hospital, Dr. Caughman Taylor, said respiratory illnesses have increased in children. 

According to Dr. Taylor, the hospital saw 11 children who had COVID-19 this past weekend alone. He said this has been the most cases, at once, since the peak of the pandemic in 2020. 

"I can tell you from experience here at the children's hospital, we are at capacity, or near capacity almost every day," said Dr. Anna-Kathryn Rye Burch, Infectious Disease Pediatrician at Prisma Health. "Our ICU is full of children with respiratory viruses and some of those are COVID. The majority of our teens who have acute COVID illness over the last two weeks have all been non-immunized against COVID."

Dr. Taylor said the Pediatric ICU (PICU) has 15 beds in total, and the past two weeks they have been filled up. 

"Just because we've had a surge and there's data out there that hospitals are reaching ICU capacities, and our ICU has been full, does not mean, as I said, we're not giving those kids the care they need, whether it's in the emergency room or others," Dr. Taylor said. 

Taylor said when all PICU beds are filled, they move patients to pediatric emergency rooms. This creates a domino effect and affects how the emergency department is run. 

"They're still being seen," said Dr. Taylor. "It's just instead of being in the emergency room maybe for an hour to be seen, it’s taking two and three hours to get to those children who are less sick. The sick is still get seen immediately in our emergency room."

RELATED: 'Our ICU is full of children with respiratory viruses': Health officials urge routine vaccinations during Immunization Awareness Week

Dr. Taylor said Prisma Health has never turned any patient away, and will always find a way to provide services to the community. He advises everyone to get their vaccines and for those younger than 12-years-old, continue to wash your hands and wear face coverings. 

Kershaw County School District Nurse Elizabeth Starling said the district is trying to educate their staff, parents, and students about the signs and symptoms to look out for and avoid to prevent any outbreak of illnesses. 

"We spend a lot of time with our faculty and staff," Starling said, "Educating them on things to look for, signs and symptoms, things that they should stay home for, things that they should seek further care from their physicians. If they do not feel well, they should stay home."

RELATED: Kershaw County schools begin new year on Aug. 5

Starling said the district also has quarantine rooms for faculty and students who start to not feel well during the school day. 

The district will be the first in the Midlands to start the new school year. The superintendent, Dr. Shane Robbins, said they are going to try to limit who can come into their schools to prevent spread of any disease. 

"We’re going to try to make arrangements so they can at least walk their child up to the curb and hand them to their teacher, but we have to minimize the amount of foot traffic inside the building," Dr. Robbins said.

The superintendent said people do not need to worry about sending their children back to school. 

"We are going to take care of them as if they are our own children," Dr. Robbins said. "We are going to do our very best to safe guard them and at the same time, make sure they are getting the highest quality education that they would expect their child to get regardless."