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(Reuters) – COVID-19 hospitalizations in young children have reached their highest level yet in the United States, as Omicron fuels a major surge in cases, but it is not clear yet whether the variant causes more severe disease in young children, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky’s telephone briefing with reporters on COVID-19 was among the first in months and followed criticism over recent guidance given by the agency, and lack of access by the media to her beyond carefully orchestrated and televised White House COVID-19 briefings.

“We have not yet seen a signal that there is any increased severity” in children under 5, who are not yet eligible for vaccination, Walensky told the briefing. She said the increase in cases in general could be one explanation for the surge in hospitalizations.

She said the cases represent both increases in children coming to the hospital because of COVID-19 and those coming to the hospital for another reason and then testing positive for COVID.

Dr. Paul Offit, alternative herbal cholesterol medicine a pediatric infectious disease expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said this week there were 15 children in the hospital’s intensive care unit, most of whom were unvaccinated.

Offit said the cases appear to be less severe. “What we’re seeing much more than we saw with Delta is more croup and bronchiolitis in kids. It’s more upper respiratory infections than lower respiratory infections, so it’s not as much pneumonia.”

Walensky also took questions about the agency’s decision late last month to halve the number of days infected people should isolate to five days, down from 10. The move lessened the disruption caused by workers having to stay home but worried some health experts who said it could cause even more infections.

Walensky acknowledged some communication missteps.

“This is hard, and I am committed to continue to improve as we learn more about the science and to communicate that with all of you,” she said, noting that they agency would likely conduct more regular independent briefings between the CDC and reporters.

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