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A recent surge in COVID-19 cases disproportionately impacting young and unvaccinated people has coincided with a spike in a highly contagious flu-like virus to stretch a local children’s hospital to its capacity, medical officials said.

Prisma Health Children’s Hospital in Columbia is at or near capacity virtually every day, its intensive care unit full of children with respiratory illnesses, said Dr. Anna Kathryn Rye Burch, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the hospital.

“We are seeing the impact of the second (COVID-19) surge here at Children’s Hospital in a much more powerful way than we ever saw with the first surge,” she said Monday during a news conference at the facility. “It’s a scary thing.”

Hospital officials said they were preparing to deal with an additional surge of patients as the highly contagious delta variant sweeps the state, and are equipped to meet the needs of more sick children, if necessary.

The increase in COVID-19 cases, which rose nearly tenfold between the first and last weeks of July, has sparked a sixfold jump in coronavirus hospitalizations over that time, according to state Department of Health and Environmental Control data.

A simultaneous uptick in cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, which can be serious for infants and older adults, and a pandemic-driven drop in childhood immunization rates that has left more kids vulnerable to vaccine-preventable illnesses like measles and whooping cough has created a perfect storm of disease for children, said Dr. Caughman Taylor, senior medical director at Prisma Health Children’s Hospital–Midlands.

Most of the children currently hospitalized were not vaccinated against COVID-19, many because they are too young for a shot.

But others who are 12 and older had not been inoculated either, hospital officials said.

None of the teens hospitalized with COVID-19 at Children’s Hospital over the last two weeks were vaccinated, Rye Burch said.

“All of those adolescent children that are here that are severely ill actually didn’t have to be hospitalized if they had just gotten the vaccine,” she said. “So please, please get yourself and your children vaccinated against COVID.”

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Low vaccination rates among young South Carolinians remain a concern for state health officials, DHEC Director Edward Simmer said.

As of Tuesday, only about a quarter of South Carolinians ages 12 to 19 and just 6% of young adults ages 20 to 24 had received a single COVID-19 shot, according to state health department data.

Simmer said Monday that the recent spike in coronavirus cases had not reached the heights seen this past winter because more than 50% of eligible South Carolinians are now at least partially vaccinated.

Still, the director said, state health officials are very concerned about the precipitous rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations over the past 30 days.

Nearly 730 South Carolinians were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Monday with 196 of those housed in intensive care units and 87 on ventilators, according to the latest DHEC data.

“We’re seeing a dramatic increase in hospitalizations … and not just in the children’s hospitals, but in the adult hospitals, too,” he said. “We had one hospital that had to divert seriously ill patients for a period of time because they ran out of space. That’s a problem. That is a serious public health issue.”

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