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ST. LOUIS – In the United States, hospitalizations for children under the age of 5 are increasing.

Dr. Rachel Charney, the medical director of emergency management at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, says that they are seeing one of the highest rates that they’ve had but that some of the children hospitalized with COVID-19 at the moment are not being hospitalized specifically for their symptoms, but do have COVID.

She says that this latest variant doesn’t appear to be harder on younger children but it’s just so transmissible across the board.

“Our youngest kids also haven’t had the opportunity to be vaccinated and vaccine rates in general in our children are lower than they are in adults,” Charney said.

The doctor recommends vaccinating eligible kids to protect younger ones and manage risk.

“So masking when you can; when they’re old enough to mask. Being really thoughtful about where you’re spending time and with whom, and try to keep it outdoors as much as possible,” she said. “It’s hard. We all want to start getting back to our normal social patterns and birthday parties. I think we need to get through this omicron wave and I’m hoping that life can get a little more normal after that.”

Charney also advises to limit who runs the errands.

“We’re back to just sending one member—one adult member—to go run those errands. The fewer kids and people you have to have in that store, the better,” she said.

Outdoor activities and trips to the playground are some of the safer activities.

“But the risk of being outside on a playground is pretty low. And when you combine that with the importance of getting kids outside in the fresh air and the exercise, I think that’s one of the safer things that you can do,” Charney said.

And being very thoughtful as a parent to not take yourself or anyone in your family anywhere if they’re sick.

“Right now, if you have symptoms—you know, stomach bug symptoms, upper respiratory symptoms—you need to just assume that it’s COVID,” she said.

Dr. Charney also wants parents to know that symptoms have shifted a bit from what they were seeing with previous infections.

“So we’re seeing a lot of upper respiratory. So sore throats, kids going hoarse and losing their voice. Kids presenting with croup where we haven’t seen croup as a presentation of covid before. Now we are,” Dr. Charney explained. “And also we’re seeing some kids who are not getting any upper respiratory symptoms but they’re getting stomach bug symptoms. So they’re throwing up or having diarrhea but they’re not coughing, having a runny nose or sneezing.”