Sep 15, 2021 - Podcasts

Pediatricians face a new COVID reality

With COVID-19 cases in children surging across the country, doctors are seeing more kids in their offices and in hospitals. Two pediatricians share what they’re seeing and what they want parents to know.

  • Plus, California’s recall election and lies about voter fraud.
  • And, what do you want to know about teenage mental health during the pandemic?

Guests: Pediatrician Bryan Kornreich, Michigan Medicine's Marisa Louie and Axios' Sara Fischer.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go deeper: "Big Lie" hits California recall election


NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Wednesday, September 15th. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s how we’re making you smarter today: California’s recall election and lies about voter fraud. Plus, what do YOU want to know about teenage mental health during the pandemic? But first, today’s One Big Thing: pediatricians facing a new covid reality.

We told you on yesterday's show that Covid-19 cases in children are surging around the country and with school underway nationwide, it's no wonder that the trend unfortunately shows no sign of slowing. Dr. Bryan Kornreich is a pediatrician in private practice in Winchester, Virginia. Thanks for taking the time with us Dr. Kornreich.


NIALA: Can you tell us what things are looking like right now in your practice?

BRYAN: It's a mess. It's a complete mess. Our appointments are completely booked by 8:30 or 9:00 AM. We're so overwhelmed. There's really nothing we can do to get these kids seen. So after we're filled up, we have to refer them on to maybe urgent care or an emergency room. But the waits there in Winchester are incredibly long as well. The urgent cares are six to eight hour waits. The emergency room here is 12 hour waits. So we're really worried that we just won't - kids won't be able to get the care they need.

NIALA: Why do you think this is happening?

BRYAN: Well, I think that the number of kids coming in is so huge because there are three things, three forces that have come together at one time. One is that our winter flu and respiratory virus system never happened last winter, probably because people were wearing masks and schools were closed. So that didn't really start until summer. And then all of a sudden the schools opened at the end of the summer and then the Delta variant hit which affects kids more than the previous variants did. All those three streams coming together have just brought a huge number of kids that are sick with not only Covid, but things that look like Covid, flu and RSV and other types of cold viruses.

NIALA: Do you have any message for parents who are worried about like - What's your advice like when parents call and they say, they're worried their kids are sick, like what's kind of the standard thing you're telling people?

BRYAN: Well, if they're calling in and they're sick, we should probably see them and if we can't see them they just need to look for the warning signs of severe illness. And those warning signs would be severe difficulty breathing, unable to eat and drink well, and just looking lethargic and out of it. If it's just cold symptoms and they seem to be doing okay and we don't know if it's Covid or not, just try to stay away from other people until you can get in to seek medical care.

NIALA: Dr. Bryan Kornreich is in private practice as a pediatrician in Winchester, Virginia. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Dr. Kornreich. I appreciate it.

BRYAN: Thank you for having me on.

NIALA: So we've been talking about more kids ending up in the hospital with Covid symptoms, including in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Dr. Marisa Louie is the medical director of children's emergency services for Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor.

Hi, Dr. Louie, thanks for being back with us.

MARISA LOUIE: Hi, happy to do it.

NIALA: We spoke with you back in April about the situation with kids in Michigan and your hospital. How have things changed since?

MARISA: We're still seeing relatively low numbers of patients who are admitted to the hospital. So right now, for example, in Mott Children's Hospital, we have fewer than five patients admitted to the hospital with Covid who are less than 18 years old. What we do see, however, is more kids getting sick with lots of different types of infections because of them going back to school and what everyone is getting ready for is an increase in the number of Covid infections in young kids.

NIALA: Can you help us understand what effect this is having on the medical system and what effect it's having on children? If the hospitalization rate is still relatively low for children, it's not a huge number of children that are, fortunately, that are being, that are so severely ill they have to be admitted to the hospital, but it sounds like there's a lot of other effects.

MARISA: There are. So because of the pandemic, we're seeing shortages really across the board in all sorts of different job fields, including those in the medical profession. So primary care offices don't have the providers that they need. We don't have the nurses. We don't have pharmacy technicians and pharmacists. We're really seeing shortages and that trickles down to kids.

NIALA: Dr. Marisa Louie is the medical director of children's emergency services for Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Thank you for your time. We appreciate it. Stay safe.

MARISA: I will, thanks. My pleasure. You too.

NIALA: We know that teenagers in particular have struggled with their mental health during the pandemic. As we continue our series on kids and Covid this week, we're going to be speaking with Professor Paul Harris about how COVID has affected teens’ mental health and what we can do about it. If you're a parent or a teenager, we would love to hear what questions you have for him. You can text me at (202) 918-4893. Or you can email me at [email protected] and tune into tomorrow's podcast for some of those answers.

NIALA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with the spread of election lies in California.


NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. Remember when former President Trump kept repeating the lie about election fraud in the 2020 election? Well, we've been hearing the same thing from some conservatives about the California recall election of Democratic governor Gavin Newsom. Even well before voting day yesterday. Axios’ media reporter. Sara Fischer is here with us to explain more. Hey, Sara.


NIALA: Can you tell us exactly what conservatives are saying about the recall election?

SARA: Well, they're essentially mimicking the same stuff they said around the 2020 election. Which is: this thing is rigged, there's voter fraud. They've been saying this for weeks, even before it started.

NIALA: How is this message getting out there? How is it being disseminated?

SARA: Well, a bunch of fronts. You've got right-wing media personalities on cable television. Tomi Lahren, who's a Fox News personality, was peddling misinformation. You see it being echoed in right-wing blogs like The Gateway Pundit. But you're also just seeing stuff spread on social media, which is typical as you know, when it comes to politics and elections. And that's just starting to drive a narrative. We took a look at some data and we found that Google searches for voter fraud in California have increased more than five times in the past week, according to Google Trends data.

NIALA: Have social media platforms done anything to try to stop misinformation around this particular election?

SARA: I haven't heard anything new related to the recall. And I think part of the reason is because one, we're all starting to really realize this is a problem now. And two, you know, I think they think that a lot of the policies they put in place for the 2020 election can just kind of carry over. But, Niala, that's just not how it works. You need to have a specific plan for every election and how you're going to tackle these problems. And to my knowledge, most of the big platforms just don't.

NIALA: And I'm sure there are people who are listening, thinking, well, I mean, this is just what people say now. That there's voter fraud.

SARA: Well, we don't have a history in our country of people not believing the outcome of free and fair elections. You know, this is a new strategy for some fringe right conservatives. And that's dangerous, Niala, because it's really hard to govern when the people that you're governing don't believe you won free and fair. And so it undermines democracy, it undermines the stability of our political system, and it might seem like just one incremental, big lie after another, but in the end, they totally add up.

NIALA: Sara Fischer is Axios’ media reporter and author of the Axios Media Trends newsletter, where you can read more about this. Thanks, Sara.

SARA: Thank you, Niala.

NIALA: One last thing before we go -- Thirteen gorillas at Zoo Atlanta tested positive for COVID-19 last week, after exhibiting symptoms like coughing and changes in appetite. And something that surprised me -- After the gorillas recover, they’ll be administered the experimental Zoetis [zoo-ET-is] coronavirus vaccine. It’s been authorized by the USDA for animal use on a case-by-case basis. Earlier this summer, Zoetis said the company would donate 11,000 doses of its vaccine to institutions across the country. It’s not yet approved for domestic animals like dogs and cats, but Zoo Atlanta this week was able to use its doses to vaccinate its Bornean and Sumatran orangutans, Sumatran tigers, African lions, and clouded leopard. That’s all we’ve got for you today! I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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