CSRA sees its first known child death from coronavirus

Published: Sep. 1, 2021 at 8:26 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 1, 2021 at 5:30 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. - We’ve seen our first known COVID death of a child in the CSRA.

News 12 confirmed Wednesday that there’s been a child death from coronavirus at Children’s Hospital of Georgia. We checked with the other Augusta hospitals, which reported no child deaths due to coronavirus.

Additional information about the child can’t be released due to medical privacy laws, but it’s a grim milestone for the CSRA.

With a COVID surge still sweeping the two-state region, Georgia and South Carolina health leaders have been sounding an alarm about the number of children being sickened by coronavirus.

Earlier versions of the virus largely bypassed kids, but that’s not the case with the super-contagious delta variant that’s now dominant. And health officials warn that schools are becoming spreading grounds.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said that since Aug. 21, the 11-20 age group has recorded the highest number of COVID cases in the state.

During one week in June, that age group accounted for 173 cases statewide. This past week, that age group accounted for 7,713 cases.

Most concerning to officials are the cases in the people under the age of 10, a population that cannot get vaccinated.

“They’re relying on parents, older siblings, the rest of the eligible population in the community to protect them through vaccination, masking and other safety protocols,” said Dr. Jonathan Knoche, DHEC medical consultant.

The message is much the same in Georgia.

“We’re seeing a significant number of cases among school-aged children, and the number of cases has nearly quadrupled over the last couple of weeks, with the sharpest increase, the highest number of cases, in children aged 11 to 17,” Georgia Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey said this week.

She said public health officials tracked more than 170 outbreaks statewide last week, the highest number since the pandemic began, with more than half of them in schools.

“So schools are a site of where there is transmission going on,” Toomey said.

How schools are handling the surge

During this delta-driven outbreak, CSRA school districts are being hit by the pandemic like never before.

The 29,093-student Richmond County School System is one of the latest in the state to announce a pause in on-campus learning. Students will learn virtually next Tuesday and Wednesday while campuses get a deep cleaning.

Across the river in South Carolina, school districts in McCormick and Bamberg counties as well as Williston are transitioning to at-home learning for at least the rest of this week. And Merriweather Middle School in Edgefield County is going to home learning for the rest of this week as well as next week.

Meanwhile, new statistics from the Aiken County school district show 17.31% of the student population is being quarantined. According to the school district’s latest report, 298 students and 43 employees have tested positive for COVID-19. That’s led to 4,039 students and 91 employees being quarantined.

The South Carolina districts are unable to require masks for students under a state budget stipulation, although the South Carolina Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday from opponents of that rule.

How hospitals are coping

Some hospitals in the two-state region are already seeing record numbers from the delta-driven COVID surge.

“We’re utilizing hallways. We’re using service areas. We’re using waiting rooms that have been turned into triage areas. So we’re using every square inch of this hospital,” said Dr. Alan Scott, emergency room director at East Georgia Regional Medical Center in Statesboro.

CSRA hospitals continue to be flooded with COVID patients, too. Here’s a look at local hospitals’ COVID inpatient numbers for Wednesday:

  • University Hospital: 116 inpatients, down seven from Tuesday. Of those inpatients, 103 are unvaccinated. Of the 19 inpatients in intensive care, 17 are unvaccinated. Of the 18 on ventilators, 16 are unvaccinated.
  • Augusta University Medical Center: 128 inpatients, nine of them children.
  • Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center: 18 inpatients, unchanged from Tuesday. Ten are in intensive care.
  • Doctors Hospital: 85 inpatients, up six from Tuesday.
  • Aiken Regional Medical Center: 48 inpatients, up one from Tuesday. Nine are in intensive care.

Vaccination updates

Augusta is moving forward with its plan to offer residents $100 to get fully vaccinated against coronavirus.

“It’s worth a shot” is the slogan for the program. The city administrator says officials are in the process of planning a city-sponsored vaccine clinic event. It will be a chance for people to come out to get the vaccine and possibly retrieve their $100 incentive. The tentative date for that is Sept. 8.

As soon as the program launches in September, the administrator will start providing commissioners with progress updates on the number of doses given out by the three authorized clinics and how many more people have been fully vaccinated.

Elsewhere in the state, Toomey said public health staffers have been harassed by people opposing vaccination.

In south Georgia, some health workers received “messages of hostility and misinformation about vaccinations” on social media accounts.

In north Georgia, a mobile vaccination event was shut down after a group of people yelled at the staffers and called them names.

“Aside from feeling threatened themselves, staff realized no one would want to come to that location for a vaccination under those circumstances, so they packed up and left,” Georgia Department of Public Health spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said.

“Toomey said: This is wrong. This is absolutely wrong. These people are giving their lives to help others and to help us in this state. We in Georgia can do better.”

Gov. Brian Kemp echoed that sentiment.

“I think this is a time for all Georgians to reflect back on the early days in the pandemic when people were delivering meals and doughnuts and other things to folks working in the hospital and public health workers, and that’s what we should continue to do.”

From reports by WRDW/WAGT and The Associated Press