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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Springfield and St. Louis area health leaders are asking adults to wear masks and get the COVID-19 vaccine to protect children as hospitals report admitting more young patients with the disease, including some in intensive care.

Spring Schmidt, deputy director of the St. Louis County health department, said Wednesday about one in five current total cases in county hospitals has been people under the age of 19.

Schmidt said the delta variant causing most of the current cases is as transmissible in children as it is in adults, unlike the alpha variant that drove most cases last year.

“It is true that they do not often experience as many of the severe negative outcomes, such as hospitalization or mortality (as adults),” Schmidt said. “However, that does not mean that we do not currently have children who are experiencing those outcomes … Which is why we think children require the additional protection of our entire community.”

On Tuesday, Dr. Clay Dunagan, of the St. Louis Metropolitan Task Force, said hospitals included in the task force have 20 children under the age of 19 hospitalized with COVID-19, compared with 13 children last week.

Ten of the patients are younger than 12, and the others are between 12 and 18. Three in the youngest age group and four in the oldest were in intensive care “fighting for their lives,” said Dunagan, chief clinical officer for BJC HealthCare.

Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis currently typically has between eight and 12 children in the hospital with COVID, after having one or two hospitalized early in the summer, The St. Louis Post-Patch reported.

Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City had 12 inpatient young patients with COVID as of Wednesday. The number has been increasing over the past few weeks and is similar to the count seen during the winter peak of cases, spokeswoman Marlene Bentley said in an email.

Dunagan said children are also becoming the source for further outbreaks as they come home from summer camps, for example, and interact with family members. He recommended masking children in the right settings “such as when they return to school in the fall.”

Currently, children under 12 cannot receive the vaccine. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools nationwide, regardless of vaccination status.

Moderna said last week it expects to have enough data to apply for FDA authorization to vaccinate younger children by late this year or early 2022. Pfizer has said it expects to apply in September for children ages 5 through 11.

Health officials in Springfield-Greene County echoed the comments of St. Louis officials, saying hospitals in the area are seeing more children hospitalized with COVID-19, and some of them are seriously ill.

Dr. Diane Carol Lipscomb, medical director of inpatient pediatrics at Mercy Springfield, said since the first of June, the hospital has averaged about two young children with COVID-19 hospitalized, with a peak of five. Currently, the hospital has a child under the age of 1 with COVID-19, but most of the young patients are teenagers.

Karen Cramer, chief hospital officer at Cox Health, said in April and May the hospital had a total of four pediatric admissions, but that number increased to 28 in June and July.

Lipscomb said adults should be vaccinated and wear masks to protect children but those ages 12-18 also need to be vaccinated because they generally respond well after being fully vaccinated.

“Their ability to create an immune response is fantastic,” Lipscomb said. “So when our children are vaccinated completely with both shots, they are actually able to create an immune response and not get the COVID virus and become ill requiring admission to the hospital.”

The Springfield-Greene County Health Department announced Wednesday that 27 COVID-19 deaths were reported between July 28 and Tuesday. The dead included a man in his 30s and three women in their 40s. Thirteen of the deaths were people in their 70s and 80s.

Mercy Emergency Medical Services announced that a Mercy Springfield paramedic, 57-year-old Sue Gregory, died of COVID-19 on Wednesday.

The 58 people who died in Greene County in July was the highest number of deaths in a month since January, the health department said, and their average age was 64, down from 88 in March 2020.