Ohio doctors talk COVID-19’s harm to kids’ mental health, recent increase in infections

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December 25 2021 12:00 am

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Top medical leaders from around Ohio raised the alarm Thursday on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the mental and behavior health of children.

“We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has been incredibly difficult for people of all ages, but including young people,” Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said, “whether they’ve been asked to shift from virtual learning one year to in-person learning the next or having to adapt to masking recommendations.”

He was joined by Dr. Mary Beth DeWitt, chief of child psychology at Dayton Children’s Hospital, in a press conference that discussed the pandemic’s emotional impact on children, how resources are strained and how kids can get help.

“As an organization, I believe we are seeing what the nation is seeing, which is an increase in need, an increase in referrals, an increase in visits across our continuum of care,” she said. That includes psychology and psychiatry services, crisis services and school-based services.

“What we now also are learning,” DeWitt added, is a 30-40% increase in symptoms being identified in children post-pandemic. Before the pandemic, she said, 1 in 5 children suffered from a mental health condition or learning disability.

“We have a limit in the number of services that were provided prior to the pandemic. And with access concerns, because some providers have not opened up to in-person visits again, we have a challenge in getting children the services they need,” DeWitt said.

DeWitt and Vanderhoff were also joined by OhioHealth infectious disease expert Dr. Joseph Gastaldo, who discussed the lingering effects of coronavirus infection — known as “long COVID” — and how the disease can spread more in the winter.

Vanderhoff also detailed the significant increase in COVID-19 over the past month. Hospitalizations from the virus in Ohio have increased 23% in the past three weeks to now make up 1 in 7 hospital patients statewide. ICU admissions, too, have risen 15%.

Wednesday’s increase in cases, 6,382, was the highest single-day jump since early October.

“Vaccination remains especially important, because the Delta variant appears to have gotten a second wind,” Vanderhoff said.

More than 77,000 Ohioans aged 5-11 have started the vaccination process since they became eligible two weeks ago, Vanderhoff said. Ohio’s vaccination rate is 60.26% among eligible people (ages 5+), per ODH data.

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