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Wisconsin unveils campaign to keep kids healthy and in school, amid rise in COVID hospitalizations

Dr. Jasmine Zapata explained the importance of keeping kids healthy and in school at Thursday's DHS briefing.
Susan Bence
Dr. Jasmine Zapata explains the importance of keeping kids healthy and in school at Thursday's Department of Health Services briefing.

More kids are being hospitalized for COVID-19 as the omicron variant races around Wisconsin, but state health officials said there are ways to drive down the trend.

Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake shared what she called disheartening news at the media briefing Thursday. "Since the start of the pandemic more than 2,350 Wisconsinites under the age of 20 have been hospitalized with COVID-19, this includes 65 that have required some intensive care," she said.

Dr. Jasmine Zapata, head of DHS Bureau of Community Health Promotion, took a deeper dive into the data: "Since the end of August 2021, children in Wisconsin have made up more than 1 in 5 new confirmed cases of COVID-19."

She said not only can children suffer from acute COVID symptoms, but "there are also long COVID symptoms that our children can experience, and also there was a recent MMWR report that there is an increased incidence of children being diagnosed with diabetes after having a COVID-19 infection."

In hopes of turning the tide, DHS launched a multimedia campaign Thursday called Keeping Kids Safe and In School.

Timberlake said the campaign underscores masking at school, testing in school and offering vaccinations in school.

"That's making sure that schools sign up to participate in our K-12 school-based testing program. In addition, we encourage schools offer on-site vaccination and booster clinics, especially during drop-off and pick-up times to make it that much more convenient for kids and for parents ... to get vaccinated. And we encourage schools to require masks for everyone," she said.

Zapata added keeping kids healthy and in the classroom has value beyond keeping up with homework.

Speaking as a pediatrician and a mother of three, she said being with teachers and peers is crucial for kids’ mental well-being.

Zapata described trends that have surfaced since the pandemic began. "There are increased suicidal thoughts for teen girls, there have been increased — just in general in our state — of opioid overdose deaths; there have been increases in domestic household violence," she said.

The state health officials aren’t sure when the omicron variant will peak in Wisconsin, but said it will happen quicker if everyone were to follow the masking, testing and vaccinating strategies.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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