A classroom at Ontario High School. (The Enterprise/Rachel Parsons)

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MALHEUR COUNTY - More children are getting Covid, which can cause symptoms that may be hard for parents to recognize. The first full week of school resulted in more than 50 students and staff needing to quarantine in the Vale school district, and 29 students quarantining in Ontario as of Friday, Aug. 27.

Covid cases in people under 18 have “increased dramatically,” since July, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

That age group now makes up a larger portion of the total Covid cases, currently at 13%.

There were 1,871 pediatric cases reported in Oregon the week of Aug. 18. That’s 768 more than the previous peak of 1,103 in November.

Adjusted for population, Malheur County has the sixth highest rate in the state of Covid cases for people under 18, according to OHA data. There were 65 pediatric cases reported in the first three weeks of August.

Representatives of local pediatric clinics in Malheur County – Snake River Pediatrics and Treasure Valley Pediatric Clinic – didn’t respond to requests for interview about pediatric cases.

Dr. Zach Spoehr-Labutta of the Grand Ronde Hospital Women’s & Children’s Clinic in La Grande said that he has diagnosed more Covid cases in the last month than at any other point in the pandemic.

“Covid has a really wide range of effects on children less than 12,” Spoehr-Labutta said in an email to the Enterprise. “It can look like allergies, it can look like the common cold, and it can look really serious with acute hypoxic respiratory failure, meaning that the child's lungs can no longer do their job.”

Statewide, the pediatric Covid cases requiring hospitalization remain rare. For the week of Aug. 15, 10 patients under 18 were hospitalized in Oregon, according to the OHA. Nine were children under 5.

St. Luke’s Health System, which takes pediatric hospitalizations for the Treasure Valley area, said it usually sees one or two children a day.

“But, with the Delta variant and kids going back to school, it’s 2-2.5x more contagious, that could change,” said Reeves.

The number of children admitted has at least doubled between July and August, said Taylor Reeves, St Luke’s public relations coordinator, in an email to the Enterprise. 

She said the St. Luke’s system had one pediatric patient in the ICU in Boise, on Monday, Aug. 30.

Spoehr-Labutta recommended that parents monitor their children for fever, cough, congestion, runny nose, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, muscle aches, tiredness and loss of taste and smell.

“Covid is difficult because it has so many symptoms,” Spoehr-Labutta said. “In general, if your child is not at 100%, please consider that it may be Covid causing their symptoms.”

Dr. Dawn Nolt of OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland said that children who are unvaccinated are at greater risk of getting Covid.

“For those able to do so, getting vaccinated is the single best thing to do to prevent severe illness from COVID-19 for yourself and others,” Nolt said in an email to the Enterprise. “This includes those unable to be vaccinated including children under 12, and those with compromised immune systems.”

Nolt had additional recommendations for parents: “Wear your mask indoors in all public spaces or with people outside of your household; Wear your mask outdoors where physical distancing is not possible. Limit gatherings and if you do gather, do it outside. Physically distance whenever possible.”

Spoehr-Labutta also said that vaccination was the best tool against pediatric Covid cases.

“If they are not old enough, I recommend ‘cocooning’ them in a family where everyone else eligible to be vaccinated is vaccinated. Much like cars have multiple safety features, I also recommend masking indoors, and socializing outdoors in limited size groups, preferably with people who are also vaccinated,” Spoehr-Labutta said.

In Malheur County, 25% of people ages 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated, as of Aug. 30. That’s less than half of the state vaccination rate for that demographic, at 56%.

“We will get through this eventually,” Spoehr-Labutta said. “How long it takes is based on how long it takes to get ‘herd immunity’ based on widespread vaccination.”

CORRECTION: There were more than 50 students and staff needing to quarantine in the Vale school district, and 29 students quarantining in Ontario as of Friday, Aug. 27. These numbers were not of positive cases. The Enterprise apologizes for the error.

News tip? Contact reporter Abbey McDonald at [email protected]

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