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‘They wonder if they’re going to die’: North Idaho pediatric doctors say stress to kids with COVID-19 is worse

Pediatric doctors from across North Idaho came together to talk about the physical and mental stress put on children from the delta variant of COVID-19.

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — Pediatric doctors from across North Idaho came together Wednesday to talk about the new challenges the delta variant of COVID-19 is creating for children. 

In a press conference Wednesday, the doctors said they are bracing for more children to come into hospitals as the school year in Idaho continues without protective measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

"We recognize that children greatly benefit from in-person learning for so many reasons but it needs to be done safely," Dr. Vanessa Carroll, Pediatric Medical Director at Kootenai Health, said. 

They gave a resounding recommendation that schools begin universal masking, social distancing and for anyone eligible to get vaccinated. 

Due to the delta variant, the children they are seeing come in with COVID-19 are sicker than in previous waves and, with children under the age of 13 unable to get vaccinated yet, they are more at risk to come in seriously ill. 

Dr. Beth Martin Pediatrician at Coeur d'Alene Pediatrics said that in the past couple of weeks, the kids coming in are having fevers longer, coughs for longer and that "they feel miserable."

They have begun seeing children come in with COVID-19 needing to be placed on a ventilator and children with long-haul coronavirus cases.

Dr. Jeff Shirts Pediatrician at Lakeside Pediatrics in Coeur d'Alene said they are seeing patients ranging from a few weeks old to older teenagers with severe symptoms. He said that the stress on children goes beyond the stress of just being sick.

The children feel the stress of missing school, along with the stress of isolation from family and friends. Dr. Shirts noted that school districts were already having to move to remote learning early in the school year. 

Watch below or click here to watch the full press conference: 

Tanya Heidenreich, psychiatric nurse practitioner at Kootenai Health, said that COVID-19 goes beyond physical illness to cause mental stress in adults but for children, its mental effects are much worse. 

"These children are experiencing symptoms that are similar to trauma," she said. "They get made fun of if they wear a mask, they get made fun of if they don't wear a mask, They don't know who to believe."

She went on to say that kids who come in with COVID-19 have a harder time distinguishing how serious their cases are and this makes the stress to children patients more severe. 

"Kids show up in the emergency room and they wonder if they're going to die," Heidenreich said.

While they are seeing severe cases of COVID-19, Dr. Carroll said Kootenai Health is not overrun yet but they are preparing for what they fear might be a surge of child cases as the school year continues. Kootenai Health currently has 15 beds to treat pediatric patients.  

In a press release ahead of the news conference, Kootenai Health reported that the hospital reached the highest number of COVID-19 patients in its ICU. 

The hospital currently has 43 COVID-19 patients in the ICU, while under normal circumstances the hospital only has 26 licensed ICU beds. That's an increase compared to the previous Wednesday when Kootenai reported 40 COVID-19 patients in the ICU, with 20 of those on ventilators. There are currently 112 COVID-19 in their hospital.