BY: JAKE ZUCKERMAN and Ohio Capital Journal

Ohioans 19 and younger are now driving the state’s COVID-19 pandemic, comprising a larger share of cases than any other age group.

Roughly one in three people who have contracted COVID-19 this month are 18 or younger, according to an analysis of state data. Those aged 20-29 are the next most prevalent cohort, comprising 16% of the month’s cases.

This comes as many schools struggle to remain open amid spiking infection and quarantine rates of students, and children’s hospitals raise the alarm about strained capacity.

At Akron Children’s Hospital, roughly 12-15 kids are being hospitalized with COVID-19 per day, according to remarks from hospital CEO Grace Wakulchik at a press briefing by members of Ohio’s children’s hospitals. At Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, 26 kids are hospitalized with the disease. Nine are in intensive care, including five on ventilators.

Several children’s hospital administrators warned Tuesday of increasingly fatigued staff and crowded facilities.

“The delta variant is not only more contagious, it is impacting kids in a fundamentally higher level than we’ve seen to date,” said Nick Lashutka, CEO of the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association.

Through most of the pandemic to date, adults 20- to 29-years old have driven the bulk of the COVID-19 caseload. Cases in children began to overtake their elder counterparts in July. Infections in September are twice as prevalent now among Ohio children as those in their 20s and three times as high as those in their 50s.

The rising prevalence of cases in children is likely a reflection of a return to school, sometimes without masks depending on the school district. State officials have declined to impose any statewide mask mandate in schools. Additionally, children 12 and under are not yet eligible for vaccination.

“It’s really clear to us as pediatricians that the risk of not wearing a mask if you’re a child in school is much greater than the risk of wearing a mask,” said Dr. Patricia Manning-Courtney, the chief of staff at Cincinnati Children’s.

“For some reason, we’re prioritizing kids not wearing masks over kids not getting COVID.”

Data from the Ohio Hospital Association shows COVID-19 hospitalizations among Ohioans 17 and younger has increased 857% over the last eight weeks.

Alongside the kids, COVID-19 is surging in Ohio across all ages. More than 3,100 Ohioans are hospitalized with COVID-19, a rate not seen since January.

New case rates, positivity rates on tests, total test and other indicators reflect a case surge as well.

An analysis from Stat, a health news outlet, found Ohio ranks fourth among states in terms of how fast COVID-19 case rates are accelerating.

Ohio has the 13th lowest vaccination rate of any state in the nation, according to a tracker from The New York Times.

JAKE ZUCKERMAN is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.

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