by Erin Beck, Kids’ Health Correspondent

West Virginia officials apparently really don’t want you to know how sick with COVID-19 kids are getting in West Virginia. 

In September, Think Kids WV Executive Director Kelli Caseman and I noticed the state wasn’t reporting child hospitalization numbers, only adult numbers. And since we knew the Delta variant of the virus is different — we knew it was more contagious and that it was possible it may affect kids more severely — I decided to ask state officials about it. (Health officials are currently asking similar questions about the Omicron variant.)

On Oct. 1, Dr. Clay Marsh, state COVID-19 czar, said the state’s pandemic leadership team received daily emails from the West Virginia Hospital Association about adult and child hospitalizations. He said those emails even went so far as to include information about whether patients required intensive care and ventilators. He referred me to the governor’s office for copies.

After the governor’s office took two weeks to refer me to the state Department of Health and Human Resources, DHHR is now telling me they need until Dec. 29 to send a response. I had sent a Freedom of Information Act request to them on Oct. 19 and they had requested until Nov. 29 to respond.

This is illegal, as West Virginia law gives them five days to furnish the documents, deny the request, or inform me of a time I may inspect them in person.

It’s also unreasonable, in my opinion, as Dr. Marsh said the records were already in email format, so it’s not like they’d require much time to retrieve.

I tweeted similar thoughts after receiving the FOIA response from DHHR attorney Daron Light. Marsh responded on that platform that he “will defer to @WV_DHHR for this request.”

Meanwhile, according to a November 25 report from the Children’s Hospital Association and American Academy of Pediatrics, West Virginia continues to rank abysmally when it comes to how our state’s children are faring against COVID-19. 

“At this time, it appears that severe illness due to COVID-19 is uncommon among children,” those groups wrote. “However, there is an urgent need to collect more data on longer-term impacts of the pandemic on children, including ways the virus may harm the long-term physical health of infected children, as well as its emotional and mental health effects.”

West Virginia has the fifth highest percent of cumulative COVID-19 cases that are children (behind Vermont, Alaska, South Carolina and Guam), and the third-highest number of cumulative COVID-19 cases per 100,000 children (behind Alaska and Tennessee.)

Children make up 22.8 percent of cases here, compared to 20 percent nationwide, and a reported 66,385 kids have caught it.

According to the CDC, 384 kids have been hospitalized with COVID-19 in West Virginia. That’s a jump of 22 kids since I last wrote about this on Nov. 13, about two weeks ago, and indicates that hospitalizations among kids are increasing.

For what it’s worth, here’s some information I was about to get from WVU Medicine and CAMC.

  • As of Nov. 8, at WVU Medicine, 49 babies, defined as under one year old, had been hospitalized with COVID-19, according to a WVU spokeswoman.
  • Marsh said on Oct. 1, there were six children in intensive care and one requiring a ventilator, of ten children hospitalized for COVID-19 in the state. He said those numbers had been “pretty consistently” in that range during the Delta surge.
  • In October, a WVU pediatrician said 2-6 WV kids on average per day were requiring hospitalization, and as many as all at one time had required intensive care.

Nationally, 13 percent of kids received their first vaccine dose between Nov. 2 and Nov. 26, according to the Washington Post. At that point, 6 percent of West Virginia kids ages 5 to 11 had received their first dose, putting us near the bottom. 

UPDATE: Caity Coyne of the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that state officials reported hospitalization numbers on Tuesday, but not those specific to children. According to the Gazette-Mail, hospitalizations totaled 561, with 181 people in intensive care units and 96 on ventilators. Of those in the hospital, 76 percent were unvaccinated.
West Virginia, along with Wyoming, ties for the state with the lowest percentage of residents — 54 percent — with at least one vaccination dose, according to the Act Now Coalition’s COVID-19 tracking project.
Erin Beck is our Kids’ Health Correspondent. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter

1 Comment

Roy Lambson · December 1, 2021 at 2:30 pm

That the efforts on behalf of West Virginia’s children is not completely transparent is criminal. Justice and Manchin need to go. Their interest in WV is strictly about personal power and wealth. They care little for anything that would threaten their status or bottom line. Because of their myopic attitudes toward change of any sort that might hurt them personally or politically, West Virginia will remain at he bottom, as far as the health and welfare of it’s citizens are concerned. Anything that might be considered progressive or an important change for the advancement of West Virginia’s citizens will be ignored or a fervent attempt to will be made to marginalize those efforts.

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