And the rate for young children is rising.
According to the latest COVID-19 data update, 72.6 per every 1,000 children between the ages of one and four years visit ERs with COVID-19 symptoms compared to just 27.1 for the entire population, as of March 12.
Children ages five to 11 visit at a rate of 30.7 per every 1,000 people.
And while the rate for the entire population has been decreasing since the province began issuing provincial reports at the start of February, the rate has been increasing for young children over the last three weeks, from 64.9 on Feb. 26.
Dr. Adam Ogieglo, a family physician in Saskatoon, told Global News he’s consistently seen more children with COVID-19 symptoms in his practice since the provincial government lifted the mask mandate at the start of March.
“So, kids under five (have) lots of crupe-like presentations, or kids are having a little bit of trouble breathing, needing a bit of medicine to help them get through that,” he said.
Normally — at least, before the pandemic — he said he’d be seeing a decline in cold and flu issues this time of year.
Looking at the list of walk-in patients during the interview, he said a quarter of them were younger than 12 and had COVID-like symptoms.
He also said he’s seeing a rise in long COVID-type symptoms as well, where they’ve had coughs, fatigue and shortness of breath for months.
“(Long-term effects are) what I worry about,” he told Global News.
“The let-it-rip approach that we’re taking is — what if there is something like we’ve seen with other viruses linked to problems later in life, like how chickenpox gives you shingles? And there’s been a linkage between Epstein-Barr Virus that causes mono and multiple sclerosis,” he said.
The problem of long COVID and the risk of being infected is worse for children than the general population because those between five and 17 aren’t eligible for a vaccine booster yet — which helps prevent an Omicron infection from becoming more serious — and because Canada’s public health agency hasn’t approved any vaccine for use on anyone younger than five years old.
When asked if he had a sense where the virus was spreading, Ogieglo said it’s everywhere.
Martensville parent Dorinda Thompson believes her eight-year-old son, Decker, caught it either while playing hockey or at a friend’s birthday party.
“Is it going to be mild? Is it going to be — is he going to wind up in the hospital?” she said, recalling her reaction to Decker’s testing positive.
“That was my biggest fear.”
Thompson said they always wear masks and only interact with the same people.
She told Global News four people from her son’s friend group or on his hockey team caught COVID-19 at the same time, raising the total number of people she knew with the disease at once to eight.
“That’s the most people that I know who have gotten COVID since the whole pandemic started,” she said.
Decker never needed to go to the hospital. But even with his full recovery (and temporary immunity from contracting COVID), Thompson said she’s still worried about the amount of virus in the population and the potential emergence of new variants.
Ogieglo said more testing, especially PCR testing, would help the medical community and scientists know what is going on with the virus and help the general population be aware.
NDP leader Ryan Meili raised the issue in question period again on Tuesday.
“It made zero sense to ever remove general access to PCR testing. It made zero sense to remove regular reporting. It makes even less sense as we maybe head into a BA.2 wave. We don’t know what that’s going to look like, but the trouble is we’re going to know so much later because we don’t even have access to testing,” he said.
Premier Scott Moe and health minister Paul Merriman defended the move by touting Saskatchewan’s early uptake on rapid test kits and suggesting serious COVID-19 cases in kids will result in doctors ordering PCR tests.
Ogieglo said he does that, but said having more information would make it easier to understand how the virus is spreading, especially because PCR tests are much more sensitive than rapid antigen tests.
“If you test in the first couple of days (of having symptoms with a rapid antigen test), there are high rates of false negatives, meaning you’re falsely reassured that you potentially don’t have COVID where you might have COVID,” he said.
“And even if you don’t have COVID, you’re spreading around potentially other germs that make other people have to isolate.”
He also said it would help if the provincial government acted “on information and data rather than trying to make somewhat political decisions.”
He said the government should re-implement public health orders when the virus was spreading rapidly and when many people are sick — like now.
— with files from Connor O’Donovan
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