Omicron surge brings rise in pediatric cases, Orange County health official says

Dr. Akinyemi Ajayi says more children are affected by omicron than any other variant

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – As University of Florida researchers predict Florida will hit its peak of the omicron surge this week, one local pediatrician said he’s seeing its impact on kids in his office.

Dr. Akinyemi Ajayi is a pediatrician specializing in pediatric pulmonology and serving on the Orange County Public Schools Medical Advisory task force. He said this week he is seeing a sharp increase in patients testing positive for COVID-19.

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“The truth is we are getting more phone calls right now than we have gotten at any point in the last two years from our chronic patients,” he said. “We have clearly seen this week... a sharp increase in the number of phone calls with children with COVID-19 infection (who) are now beginning to develop asthma-related illnesses.”

This comes as Orange County Public Schools reported cases doubling and quarantines tripling from Friday to Monday. According to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, as of Monday, there were 749 confirmed cases and 441 students quarantining.

Data also shows the number of children in Florida hospitals during the omicron surge reached an all-time high on Monday, peaking at 229 pediatric hospitalizations before coming down slightly on Tuesday to 226.

“For the first time we are seeing a variant that is affecting kids more than the first two variants did,” Ajayi said. “Alpha and delta are not a big issue at all for children, but omicron is more in the upper area and throat area. The throat area is a very senstive area for kids. Their airways are more prone to swelling up.”

Orange County Public Schools released the following statement to News 6 regarding the rise in cases this week:

“We’ve had inquiries about keeping a child home due to increasing COVID-19 cases. While we are not encouraging parents to do so, if you choose to keep your child home, it will be excused if your child keeps up with their assignments. They can reach out to the teacher for schoolwork. In addition, we highly encourage students to wear a face mask as an added layer of protection and to remain home if they are sick or symptomatic.”

Ajayi believes concerned parents don’t need to go as far as keeping their children who are not sick at home. Instead, he suggests keeping up with continued COVID-19 measures, including wearing masks in the classroom through at least the end of the month.

“I literally told everyone, go back to school, just wear your masks, wash (your) hands and make your child do what they need to do,” he added.

About the Author:

Nadeen Yanes joined News 6 as a general assignment reporter in 2016. She grew up in Leesburg and graduated from the University of Florida. Nadeen has won three Associated Press Awards for her reporting on the Pulse Nightclub shooting, the trial of the Pulse gunman's wife and the capture of an accused cop killer, Markeith Loyd.